Saturday, 25 October 2014

Keeping PACE with our energy use

During this term of council, I have been proud to serve on London’s Advisory Committee on the Environment (ACE). The committee provides input, advice, and makes recommendations to City Council on environmental matters affecting London.

Aside from firsthand experience with how thing get done at City Hall, serving on the committee has given me a chance to discuss exciting new ideas for improving our city’s environmental performance with smart and committed fellow citizens. One of these proposals I think is so promising that I have included it in my platform: a Property Assessment for Clean Energy (PACE) program.

Here’s how it works: property owners make energy improvements to their homes or buildings. This may include installing high-efficiency furnaces and water heaters, new windows and doors or other air sealing measures, renewable heat sources such as solar and geothermal, and more. Rather than paying the cost of these improvements up front, property owners would pay for them over several years in instalments added to their property tax assessment.

There are several benefits. By making our homes more energy efficient, we reduce carbon emissions that are contributing to climate change. Property owners who participate save money on utility bills, since they are using less energy.  They money they save goes toward paying the loan back, and what remains left over can be spent in the local economy.

Energy improvements are beneficial, but they can have high upfront costs. A PACE program will put these kinds of improvements within reach for families with a wider range of incomes, allowing them to save money and lower their carbon footprint as well.

Another upside to PACE is that even if a family plans to sell their home within a few years, energy improvements still make sense. The new furnace, windows, or other improvements stay with the home and continue generating savings for the new owner. The cost also stays with the property, and the new owners who are seeing the benefits of a more energy efficient home continue to pay for the improvements on their property tax assessment until they are paid for.

The other part of this win-win-win situation is economic stimulus.  There will be many local jobs created for the vendors and installers of qualifying equipment, which means the money being spent by property owners will go to companies in London to employ workers living in the city.

The City of London is currently investigating the benefits of such a program and how it could be implemented here. An ACE proposal in 2013 was passed by City Council, with staff investigating in 2014 for a planned pilot project in 2015. Several US states have made this kind of program available already. Toronto also approved a pilot program in 2013, which they call the Home Energy Loan Program, or HELP.

I have championed a PACE program at the Advisory Committee on the Environment and will continue to do so on City Council. It makes sense to provide Londoners with easier ways to improve energy efficiency at their homes and businesses, and to create a stable environment for employment in this sector. We can help people save money, create jobs, and make London an environmental leader at all at the same time.

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