New province-wide low-income energy conservation program

An IndEco project report
Social housing buildingOntario’s challenge in the next few years is to redesign our energy sector to reliably and affordably deliver the power that Ontario’s homes and businesses require, and to do so in a way that does not threaten our environment. Conservation measures are essential as problems with existing nuclear plants, transmission system constraints, and lack of investment in new generating plants contribute to tight supply conditions. Meanwhile, energy demand continues to grow.

In 2006 the Ontario Energy Board (the "Board") established the current provincial framework for natural gas Demand Side Management ("DSM"), that is, programs that reduce customers’ demand for energy. The current program builds on more than ten years of experience of the gas utilities in DSM. As part of this framework, Enbridge Gas Distribution and Union Gas must each spend at least 14% of the utility’s residential DSM budget on targeted low-income programs.

Energy poverty is an increasingly important issue in this province. The impacts of rising energy prices as well as fees for security deposits, disconnection and reconnection fees, and late payment charges can be devastating for families in need. In March 2009, the Board announced the formation of the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (“LEAP”), to assist low-income energy consumers in managing and paying for their use of natural gas and electricity. LEAP was established to provide emergency financial assistance, access to tailored customer service measures (including bill payment, disconnections, security deposits, and arrears management) and targeted electricity and natural gas conservation. The intention is to create a province-wide program that ensures access to energy assistance for all low-income energy consumers in need.

This report contains the guiding principles and framework for the targeted conservation program. These were developed between June and August 2009 through a series of working group meetings, with fifteen organizations including groups such as natural gas distribution utilities, electric distribution utilities, energy retailers, environmental groups, ratepayer groups, and government agencies. Framework elements include: program description, target audience, participant eligibility, program measures, screening, program delivery, education and training, budget and targets, incentive structure, and program research needed in 2010.

The result of these efforts is reflected in a framework that balances the needs of low-income energy consumers, the business of providing natural gas, and provincial conservation efforts. This framework can be adapted to include electric utilities as well. This program provides and installs basic measures (e.g. low-flow showerheads, programmable thermostats, pipe wrap) and extended measures (e.g. insulation, draft proofing, furnaces, water heaters) in eligible low-income homes at no cost to the participants. These measures represent long-term solutions to help low-income customers lower their energy bills and participate in the culture of conservation, but perhaps more importantly increase their health, comfort and safety and avoid homelessness.

On September 8, 2009 the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure (the "Minister") advised the Board of the government's plan to develop a province-wide integrated program for low-income energy consumers. In light of these plans, the Minister requested that the Board not proceed with implementation of the framework for low-income energy consumers in advance of a ministerial direction. The Minister further indicated that the Ministry, in the development of its program, would build upon the work the Board has undertaken to date and asked the Board to work with the Ministry as the Ministry moves forward with this program. A copy of the Minister's letter is posted on the Board's website with the Board's letter of September 28, 2009 announcing this change of plans.

In the letter of September 28, the Chair of the Board advised the Minister that the Board looks forward to working with the Ministry on the development of their integrated program and that the Board will defer work on the LEAP initiative.


About the author

Amy Snook is a Consultant with experience in a broad range of environmental and energy issues. She has a strong background in environmental chemistry and aquatic ecology and has worked on projects for municipalities and the province regarding water and energy conservation. Since joining IndEco in 2009, she has helped facilitate this working group as well as the emergency financial assistance working group.

Source document

The finalized report is also available on the Ontario Energy Board's website.

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