Peterborough Utilities offers advice with cap-and-trade set to kick in on Jan. 1 in Ontario

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to the Ontario government’s new approach to combatting climate change, it’s time to start.

New Year’s Day is the day of reckoning. The price of gasoline is going to jump four cents a litre and every other form of energy will follow suit.

Electricity, natural gas, propane, heating oil … the province is tacking a premium on them all in what amounts to the official kick-off of Ontario’s cap-and-trade program.

The purpose is to put a price on carbon. Make carbon more expensive and people will be inclined to use less of it. Less carbon use means lower greenhouse gas emissions. Fewer emissions slows the pace of climate change.

Cap-and-trade essentially creates a carbon market. The province is capping the total amount of carbon that can be produced and assigning individual cap amounts to large industries and businesses. Those that are over their cap will have to buy carbon credits, those that are under their cap will be sellers.

Homeowners, tenants and smaller businesses aren’t directly involved in the cap-and-trade market but still have a large stake in how it works.

That’s because cap-and-trade and higher prices on fuel and home heating are just one element of Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan. They are the penalties that create a financial incentive to use less energy; they also produce revenue, revenue the province is promising it will use to help people buy greener cars and trucks, more efficient heating and cooling systems for homes and businesses, and to install alternative energy sources.

When cap-and-trade is running full out in 2020 the province expects to take in $1.9 billion annually to invest in those programs.

But higher energy prices are already here. For anyone interested in reducing both their carbon footprint and their energy bills some programs already exist.

The most comprehensive programs are for low-income tenants and homeowners. Those who qualify can get free upgrades for insulation, programmable thermostats, indoor clothes drying racks, possibly even new appliances.

Cathy Mitchell, conservation technical co-ordinator with the distribution arm of Peterborough Utilities Inc., says the local electrical utility expects to provide up to $85,000 in subsidies this year to low income households. The target is to increase that to $110,000 in 2017.

Enbridge Gas and Union Gas have an equivalent Home Winterproofing Program.

Other subsidy programs are available regardless of income. The Heating and Cooling Initiative will provide up to $650 to replace older furnaces and air conditioners, and anyone can print out on-line coupons that bring down the cost of everything from LED light bulbs to clotheslines and weatherstripping.

All those incentives and programs are explained on a central website:

The PUI program is funded by the Independent Electricity System Operator, a non-profit agency that oversees Ontario’s electricity market. It was created in 1998 as part of the breakup of Ontario Hydro.

Small business owners can also take advantage of conservation incentives. Mitchell says she worries that smaller companies that don’t have enough staff to dedicate someone to energy management tend to focus on replacing equipment only after it breaks down.

As a result they often aren’t aware of incentives that can make upgrades pay for themselves while reducing energy consumption, she said.

PUI’s target is to have the subsidy programs it oversees result in 39 gigawatt hours of electricity conservation by 2020. That would be the equivalent of taking every home in Lakefield off the electricity grid.

As cap-and-trade and the provincial Climate Change Action Plan go into full swing those subsidy programs will expand. The province and local utilities are working on pilot projects now, Mitchell said.

The province has made it clear that retrofit programs now available only to low income households will expand. The federal government will also feel pressure to fund home energy conservation initiatives.

Higher energy prices have arrived. It only makes sense to take advantage of the incentives that are the other half of Ontario’s climate change reduction equation.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, December 31, 2016.