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End to federal home retrofit program a blow to contractors

Jan 31 2012

The federal government has cut off access to a grant program that helped Canadians make their homes more energy-efficient and boosted business for insulation, window and heating equipment companies.

The EcoEnergy Retrofit Homes program, launched in 2007 and renewed in June 2011, was originally supposed to end on March 31.

About $400 million was budgeted for the program through Canada's Economic Action Plan but just half of that amount is expected to be spent.

The government said the program has been ended as a money-saving measure.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver also said the program has reached its goal of registering 250,000 homeowners.

The 250,000 cutoff was not mentioned in the original announcement for the EcoEnergy program.

B.C.'s LiveSmart program, which also offers grants for home upgrades to improve energy efficiency, is not affected.

Cessation of the federal program is bad news for Vancouver Island homeowners looking to take part in the program, as well as for businesses and contractors who have benefited from the jobs it supported.

The average federal grant has been about $1,400 per dwelling, the EcoEnergy website says; the maximum available is $5,000.

Those already enrolled have until March 31 to complete renovations and until June 30 to complete post-refit evaluations and apply for grants.

"When the EcoEnergy and the LiveSmart B.C. grants are working together, we definitely see an uptick. It's a tipping point that gets people to do more windows now rather than later," said Cam Drew, managing partner of Thermoproof Windows in Chemainus.

Energy auditors such as City Green Solutions, a Victoria non-profit enterprise, measure energy loss in homes and match homeowners with grants.

Peter Sundberg, executive director of City Green Solutions, said Monday these energy programs pay for themselves. "The government is getting the money back in taxes so it's essentially revenue-neutral for them," Sundberg said.

B.C. is better off than other provinces because it has a similar provincial program, he said. The halting of the federal program will be "absolutely devastating" in other provinces, Sundberg said.

He's critical of the federal government for promising the program before last year's election and cutting it off now, with half the promised money clawed back.

"It also leaves us wondering what the government is doing to address climate change and job creation," Sundberg said.

"It's puzzling to us why they're doing this cut right now."

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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