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The barrier to going green: Upfront costs dull enthusiasm

The International Energy Agency says efficiency improvement is a largely untapped, but critical component in meeting greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, and an important factor in its forecast for North American energy independence by 2030

Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail

Canadians see plenty of opportunity to squeeze more savings and environment benefit from energy efficiency measures, but upfront costs remain a serious barrier.

As governments across the country adopt measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy production, consumers can expect rising costs, and they are looking for options to reduce that financial burden.

In a survey to be released Friday, nearly 60 per cent of Canadians say they have made some effort to reduce their energy use, and intend to do more. The twin motivations are economic and environmental.

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"We've accomplished a great deal in the area of energy efficiency, but clearly we have a long way to go," said Elizabeth McDonald, president of the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance, which is hosting a full-day meeting in Toronto to find ways to advance that conservation effort.

End-use efficiency is often the neglected child of Canada's energy debate, garnering little of the attention devoted to oil sands production or wind energy generation.

But the International Energy Agency says efficiency improvement is a largely untapped, but critical component in meeting greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, and an important factor in its forecast for North American energy independence by 2030.

Federal and provincial governments have offered a variety of programs to encourage businesses and homeowners to invest in energy efficiency, though Ottawa has cancelled its popular eco-energy home renovation program, which provided rebates for spending on such improvements.

Ottawa has matched U.S. moves to require much tougher fuel standards in cars, which should help reduce oil consumption, while provinces have adopted energy-efficient building standards. But it was take decades for savings from those actions to be fully realized.

In an interview, Ms. McDonald said the industry – which includes gas and electric utilities as well as home builders and contractors – can't leave it up to government to sell consumers on the benefits of energy efficiency.

"Clearly, Canadians want to do something to save money and they want to do something for the environment," she said. "But there are real barriers and if we don't address them, it is an opportunity we could lose."

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She said consumers – whether households, institutions or businesses – need better access to clear, simple information on what they can do, and what savings they can expect.

In the survey of 1,584 done in February by the Gandalf Group, only 22 per cent said they were doing everything they can to conserve energy.

The main reasons people don't do more are economic – they can't afford to spend now to save later, or don't believe the savings are great enough to justify the effort.

But Gandalf also found that lower-income Canadians are more likely to embrace energy conservation that those with incomes above $100,000 a year.

The highest income earners "are the least motivated by the environment, the least likely to be strong conservers but most able to afford to do something if they wanted to," the polling company said in its survey summary.

As a result, it concluded that Canadians need to be persuaded not only of the economic benefits but of the environmental ones.

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"Savings as a motivator is not enough. Unless there are other motivators [like environmental benefit], those who can afford to waste will."

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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