The Ontario government is slashing a series of programs that were designed to help save energy in buildings. It's all part of a plan that the province claims would help “businesses improve their bottom line,” says a leaked provincial document.

The cuts, which sources told National Observer were expected to be confirmed by Energy Minister Greg Rickford at a news conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on Thursday, are the latest in a series of moves taken by Premier Doug Ford's government to undo climate change action in Canada's most populous province.

Details of the plan were initially posted on a government website on Wednesday, before promptly being removed, according to sources who saw the written version of the announcement.

The changes would affect the Save ON Energy program, which was designed and launched in 2010 in an effort to help Ontario residents save energy and money, and reduce the province's carbon footprint. Its programs and incentives are offered by Ontario utility companies like Hydro One and Toronto Hydro. The programs themselves are powered by the Government of Ontario and the Independent Electricity System Operator, a Crown corporation that oversees and manages the province's electricity operations.

Industry sources confirmed that most, if not all, local energy incentive programs are expected to be cut, which will in turn cause job losses in Ontario's energy sector.

Rising utility bills in Ontario have long been a political hot potato in the province, triggering anger in the population with some blaming the former government of Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne for introducing policies that drove up the cost of electricity and made life more expensive. Ford rose to power in the province's 2018 election promising to reduce the cost of living as he rode a wave of anger against the Liberal government, which had been in power for 15 years.

After his election, Ford started scrapping provincial climate policies, without offering any detailed replacement plans. These actions drew a rebuke from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government, which cancelled $420 million in transfer payments earmarked for Ontario climate change programs.

Since that time, the federal government has also begun to expand its own climate policies in Ontario and across the country.

Government pledged a 'plan to clean up the hydro mess'

A spokesman for Rickford said he couldn't confirm anything about the Save ON Energy program changes, but he urged National Observer to "stay tuned" for the pending announcement.

The government has said in an advisory that Rickford will be speaking about "the government's plan to clean up the hydro mess."

There are currently 48 Ontario energy rebates that can be accessed by homeowners, low-income families and middle-income families, seniors, and businesses that reward efficiences in heating, cooling and water conservation.

Local utilities played a large part in servicing these programs and incentives to the province. After the Ford government cancelled GreenON rebates in June 2018, homeowners and businesses turned to these utilities to acccess rebates for energy efficient upgrades to heating or cooling systems, for example.

Under the proposed changes, the IESO would "directly handle all retrofit applications and customer service" under the Save ON Energy program as of April 1, according to documents obtained by National Observer. This means that the programs offered by approximately 70 local energy distribution companies in Ontario will now be folded into the IESO's mandate.

As a result, many existing programs will be cut, and Ontario customers with active retrofit applications would continue to work with their local hydro company, documents show. Any applications that haven't received approval before May 1 will be transferred to the IESO.

The proposed changes are tailored to assist businesses over homeowners. According to documents, the government is also cancelling several energy conservation programs on April 1 including:

  • Audit funding: Also known as a home energy assessment, this program was introduced as the first step for a homeowner who wants to do renovations to reduce their utility bill. It consists of getting an audit of the total energy consumption of their home, along with an evaluation of what measures they could take to improve energy efficiency. The home energy audit can also assess problems that may, when corrected, save significant amounts of money over time.
  • Residential new construction: This program is designed to encourage energy efficient home builds across the province by giving builder's incentives ranging from $500-2,000 per home to help with their bottom line.
  • High performance new construction: This initiative offers design assistance and incentives for building owners and planners who want to use energy-efficient equipment throughout their project.
  • Existing building commissioning and monitoring and targeting: Among many things, this provides incentives to improve chilled water systems to cut costs.

All current local programs offered by local hydro companies will also be discontinued in the next 10 days.

Premier Ford campaigned on making changes to energy conservation, promising to move the costs conservation programs from ratepayers to the tax base — a move his election platform estimates will cost $433 million per year.

In that platform, Ford promised to cut hydro rates by 12 per cent for families, farmers, and small businesses by:

  • Returning Hydro One dividend payments to families.
  • Stopping the Liberal practice of burying the price tag for conservation programs in your hydro bills and instead pay for these programs out of general government revenue
  • Cancel energy contracts that are in the pre-construction phase and re-negotiate other energy contracts.
  • Declare a moratorium on new energy contracts.

The changes to the Save ON Energy program is the latest in a long line of cancellations of programs that provided green energy incentives for homeowners and business. Ford's first policy in office was to cancel Ontario's cap and trade program, which funded the Green Ontario Fund a $377 million non-for-profit agency that distributed cap-and-trade funds in the form of incentives for free smart thermostats to those looking to make their homes more energy efficient, and a number of other conservation incentives.

Ford has also axed the rebate program for buyers of electric and hydrogen vehicles, which was also funded by the cap-and-trade program, as part of its commitment to bring gas prices down by 10 cents a litre.

But while Ford is cutting climate programs, the federal government has been stepping in to expand its own suite of climate and energy programs and funding. In the latest federal budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that the government was transferring $1.01 billion into a fund for cities and non-profit groups to renovate residential, commercial and multi-unit buildings to reduce energy consumption across the country.

The budget said that the money would be transferred into the Green Municipal Fund, which is managed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities — an organization that has over 2,000 members with over 90 per cent of the country’s population. The transfer was retroactive to the 2018-2019 fiscal year which could likely make it available in the fund within weeks. The fund managers review applications and then make decisions about awarding grants.

It is a good thing to move the costs of any environmental programs into the public eye instead of burying them in utility bills. This way citizens and taxpayers can make informed decisions as to the programs that they wish to support. As far as the Federal programs these will disappear as well with the next election.

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