February 23, 2006
House Hansard: Session 38:2, February 23, 2006
Orders of the day
The Acting Speaker: Further debate.
Mrs. Elizabeth Witmer (Kitchener-Waterloo): I’m pleased to join the debate on Bill 21, the Energy Conservation Responsibility Act, 2006, which was introduced by the Minister of Energy and which has been capably responded to by our critic, John Yakabuski.
I’m pleased to join the debate today. I think this particular piece of legislation is another example of the fact that this government, despite having been in office for two and a half years, still has no comprehensive plan for energy conservation, or a plan in order to ensure that people and businesses in this province will have a stable, affordable supply of energy as they move into the future. In fact, we’re seeing this concern for this supply and affordability reflected as some of the jobs are lost in our province. We’ve lost over 80,000 jobs. We also know that, despite the investment made this week into the forest industry, we still continue to hear from people in the north about their concern about rising energy costs and the lack of this government in the development of any plan that will respond to those concerns.
So we have another bill, a bill that, at the end of the day, contains little in the way of detail. It has not been terribly carefully considered. It doesn’t speak to how this is going to be funded and certainly, for some people throughout the province of Ontario, these smart meters are going to cause some financial hardship. Also, for some people, particularly tenants, they’re simply not going to have any control over their ability to conserve energy and control their own personal costs.
What is happening in this bill? Well, the government has said they’re going to install somewhere in the neighbourhood of 800,000 smart meters by the end of 2007. They want to make sure that, by 2010, 4.3 million customers in this province would have these meters. We know that the cost of these first meters is going to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of at least $400 million. We also know that this cost is ultimately going to climb to somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2 billion. We also know that this huge capital cost, this huge investment, has never had the opportunity to benefit from any cost-benefit analysis. We’ve also just heard from one of the other members that this technology is probably going to be changing over time. We could have a lot of obsolete meters in this province in very short order, and they’re going to contribute to a problem for our landfill sites.
When people get these new meters, we understand that they’re probably going to be charged, monthly, $1 to $3 for their use. Tom Adams, the executive director of Energy Probe, says that consumers are going to end up paying more for the new technology but have little to show for it. He says that right now, most consumers pay about 50 cents a month for their meters, and he believes that, with these new devices, that cost is going to increase to $8. That is a tremendous amount of money for individuals in this province who are on low incomes.
I want to address some of the concerns that we have been hearing about. I want, before I do that, to quote – this was a quote from the Record, the Kitchener-Waterloo newspaper, on November 4, 2005, when Dave Martin, energy coordinator for Greenpeace Canada, said: “Don’t get me wrong; I think time-of-use … rates is a … good thing … but smart meters are not a substitute for real conservation programs.”
I guess that’s something we need to point out again and again. Despite the title of this bill, there is not, and has not been in the past two and a half years, any effort on the part of this government to encourage people to conserve energy. There have been no incentives; in fact, incentives that were there in the way of energy-efficient appliances that we put in place have been removed.
The other concern I have, as far as this bill and smart meters are concerned, is that there’s nothing said here as to how we’re going to educate the population. I agree that most people want to do what they can to conserve energy, but you also have to educate the public. You need to carefully articulate the purpose, you need to inform the public as to what these meters can and cannot do, and you need to provide some resources in order that individuals will understand the role of these meters. Certainly this bill doesn’t deal with any of that; in fact, the information contained in the bill is quite sparse.
Now, in my community I have heard concerns, in particular from tenants. I want to go to a presentation that was made here to the committee regarding smart meters and sub-metering in rental units. This is an oral presentation that was made to the standing committee on justice policy with regard to Bill 21, and it was made on behalf of RENT. Now, you might ask, who is RENT? They’re a group of people in my community. It stands for Renters Educating and Networking Together. It is a volunteer, proactive non-partisan group of concerned citizens who seek to improve the state of tenants within the region of Waterloo through education, organization and general representation.
These people came forward and made a presentation to the committee. They expressed some concerns about the proposal that has been put on the table by the government, and they go on to say that in every rental situation, tenants have neither the means nor the authority to make truly meaningful conservation changes required in their units. For example, they talk about the fact that they’re not in a position to upgrade insulation, to do any structural replacement or to repair any draughty windows and doors, to repair or upgrade the heating system, to install programmable thermostats or to replace old appliances with new energy-efficient models.
They go on to say that this proposal on the part of the government to shift these rapidly rising energy costs to tenants penalizes Ontario’s lowest-income tenants.
They talk about the fact that the burden will be on the tenants, who basically have no control over the upgrading of the energy efficiency of the building. They go on to say that, yes, a tenant could turn off a few lights. They could do their laundry at night, but we also know that in some buildings the laundry services are not available at night, so that’s really not an option. It’s very difficult for tenants to have any real control over achieving maximum energy savings or conservation, and I want to get that on the record.
They, of course, express concern about the fact that some of the hydro costs as a result are going to be downloaded to them and are concerned that, again, they can’t do anything about this. For example, they mentioned that if they have energy-guzzling appliances, they can’t do anything whatsoever about changing that.
So they are certainly concerned about their ability, and they do ask a lot of questions. They did make a presentation to the committee on behalf of the many people in the region of Waterloo that they do represent. They ask questions about sub-metering: “If sub-metering is allowed, how much will the sub-metering company charge for its administrative fees? What controls are in place for sub-metering and future fee increases?”
They are also concerned about demographics of tenants. For example, what about tenants working outside the home daily or living in Florida for extended periods during the winter? Are the tenants retired people or parents at home with children who will require more hydro usage because they are home through the day? Should these people pay more?
So I think you can see that, certainly, this whole issue of sub-metering and tenants is going to leave us with some questions that obviously need to be answered in order that the tenants and landlords of this province are both treated fairly and equally.
The other presentation that was made to the committee was made on behalf of a group called the Waterloo Region Community Legal Services. The presentation was made by Ms. Gay Slinger. Again, they are a community legal clinic. They’re funded through legal aid. I want to point that out because, obviously, the people they assist are people who meet the legal aid criteria, and many of them are living on social assistance benefits, disability pensions – the unemployed, people working for minimum wage and, of course, seniors.
These are the seniors who are living on fixed, limited incomes, and they also have certainly expressed their concerns about the rollout of the smart meters throughout the provinces to the buildings, the multi-residential buildings, and also the use of sub-metering, which is going to allow landlords to unilaterally, they say, impose individual electricity billings on tenants. Often, this is going to be through private sub-metering companies.
Again, they support, like everybody else in this province, the need to conserve energy and reduce the consumption of energy. They also appreciate and recognize, as we all know we must, that we have to develop a culture of conservation. However, this bill doesn’t speak to that.
They go on, then, to talk about the fact that they’re concerned because tenants cannot simply shift using energy off to peak periods. They talk about the fact that it’s not within their control to do so in any meaningful way to save money. That’s a concern that they talk about.
They go on to echo the concerns of RENT, where they say tenants are not in a position to retrofit the buildings in which they live in order to garner any major or significant savings with respect to true conservation. They know that that can’t be made. They can’t make those changes. So they do want the government to distinguish between the private homeowner and the tenant because, of course, private homeowners do have some ability to deal with drafty windows, they say, making upgrades to the home, dealing with issues like insulation, and also installing high-efficiency furnaces. However, we do need to keep in mind that all of those are costly initiatives. At the end of the day, obviously, there are going to be some cost-benefits.
She goes on and makes an interesting comment: “When I walked into this room over the lunch break” – she’s now referring to the justice committee that was meeting – “it was empty at that time – it was stifling hot in here because you don’t have the control” – meaning control for the heat – “in this room. In order to control your own heat, you had to open a window. So there’s your heat going out the window.”
She used that point to illustrate the fact that tenants are living with the same lack of control in their units. That’s a good case, because today in this building many parts of this building are hot, and there is actually very little control that any of us has to make changes.
She goes on to say that tenants simply “do not have the ability to effect true savings,” and that’s all tenants, regardless of their economic class. You simply don’t have the ability to do so. Again, that is a concern. She goes on to say that if you’re going to speak to and deal with “meaningful conservation,” we need to take a look at the energy efficiency of the entire building as opposed to the energy efficiency of just one unit. You have to take a look at the whole infrastructure of the building and, of course, you have to take a look at the appliances in the building. Again, many of those appliances are owned by the owner of the building, and there is nothing the tenant can do if those appliances are not energy efficient.
She goes on to say, “Understand that even if you’ve got a gas-heated building but it’s not working properly – and that’s not within your control either – that’s when you start using your oven for heat and you start buying space heaters.” Of course, that sends the electric bill even higher.
She talks about clients who are disabled, elderly or single parents, who are home all day. She says they don’t have the same luxury as people who are going out to work, who can turn down their thermostat in the morning and come back from work and turn it up in the afternoon. They just are not in a position where they can sit in the dark all day, they can have the radio and TV off, they can turn down the thermostat if, in this instance, it is even individually controlled. Again, this bill does create some hardships for some of the people in the province who simply don’t have the opportunity to benefit.
I think we can see here that, despite what the government says about this legislation, at the end of the day the government has continued to demonstrate throughout the past two and a half years that they do not have a plan for energy. There is a growing concern in this province. I hear it particularly from people in the business sector, people who create the jobs in Ontario. They continue to tell me, “You know, Elizabeth, you read about the jobs we’re losing in our community, the jobs that we’re losing in the province of Ontario” – that is now over 80,000 jobs since January 2005 – “but we want you to know that our business, despite the fact that we are still operating, is also suffering and our bottom line, obviously, is not where we would like it to be because of the escalating energy costs and because of the lack of any stable supply.” As they’re looking forward and trying to predict, it’s difficult, because they have absolutely no idea what their costs are going to be one, two and three years out. So this becomes one of the factors that causes people who own businesses in this province to take a look at whether or not they can afford to stay here. It’s one of the factors they need to look at. So I would encourage this government and this Premier to develop an energy plan, as opposed to going out and speculating about rolling blackouts this summer, because the people in this province deserve it and need it.
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