Home sellers face $300 'green' audit;
Province's clean-energy bill would raise hydro rates, promote alternative power and create 50,000 jobs
The Toronto Star: Rob Ferguson - February 24, 2009
Ontario residents won't be able to sell their houses or condos without first getting a home energy audit - which now costs about $300 - under the proposed new Green Energy Act.
That's one of several measures in the legislation unveiled by Energy Minister George Smitherman to boost incentives for electricity conservation and encourage renewable sources of energy.
The legislation was applauded by environmentalists as ambitious, although the David Suzuki Foundation says its green intent is undermined by government plans to build a new nuclear power plant at Darlington.
But critics fear the energy audits and Smitherman's estimated 1 per cent rise in household electricity bills as a result of the law will pinch pocketbooks as the recession deepens.
"It'll be used to beat down the seller of a home," Progressive Conservative MPP and energy critic John Yakabuski warned of the audit, which would put detailed information on a home's energy efficiency into the hands of buyers.
Toronto homeowners are already concerned about the impact the city's new land transfer tax - in addition to the provincial one - is having on sales and prices. Both taxes add up to thousands of dollars even on cheaper houses.
As for higher electricity prices, Smitherman promised measures to help low- income families but said anyone thinking prices will fall is mistaken as governments around the world try to curb greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
"Most people expect that electricity prices will be going up," he told a news conference, adding that there are incentives and government aid under the act to help homeowners improve their energy conservation efforts.
While homeowners will have to get a private contractor to do an energy audit before selling, there will be no requirement to take any action - the measure is simply intended to inform potential buyers what state of energy efficiency a property is in so they can take action if desired.
But New Democrat MPP and energy critic Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) said the act - which will also update the provincial building code to require new buildings to be more efficient and require higher efficiency standards for appliances - just doesn't go far enough.
"What we've seen today is still too timid compared to what we need in Ontario," Tabuns said, citing as an example that Portugal now requires solar systems in new houses.
The higher cost on electricity bills - and many of the 50,000 jobs that the government claims the act will create over three years - will stem initially from a $5 billion investment to improve the electricity transmission and distribution grid.
Smitherman's plan is to modernize it so homeowners, for example, can put solar panels on their rooftops and sell any excess power they don't need back into the system at a price yet to be determined, making the grid a "two-way street."
Utilities such as Toronto Hydro will undertake that work under ministerial directives to be issued soon, Smitherman said.
Government programs, still in the developmental stages, would provide low- interest or no-interest loans to help homeowners pay for the solar, thermal, ground source heat pumps and micro-wind energy systems that will be promoted under the act, which still requires a vote of the Legislature this spring.
"There will be strong incentive for people to be small-scale energy producers," Smitherman said. "The vision here is thousands and thousands and thousands of Ontarians into the game."
The question is will Ontarians be able to afford it, said Yakabuski, who noted there won't be any details for months on how much financial aid citizens can expect or how much they'll be paid for any electricity they provide the grid.
"They've got to put a lot of meat on these bones," said Rick Smith of Environmental Defence, who nevertheless hailed the Green Energy Act as a way to slow the pace of global warming and help attract "billions of dollars in (green) investment ..."
Smitherman's prediction of 50,000 jobs is also fuelled by provisions in the act to require Ontario-made content in green energy projects, such as steel in wind turbines that could come from mills in Hamilton or Sault Ste. Marie.
No content level has yet been set but it will be over 25 per cent, government officials suggested.
"It's going to be able to put people back to work," said Ken Neumann, director of the United Steelworkers union in Canada.
Smitherman said the home energy audits will help create "green" jobs for auditors, with plans to phase the requirement in over a longer period because there are not enough contractors in the auditing business to meet demand.
As for wind turbine projects, like the controversial proposal for one in Lake Ontario off the Scarborough Bluffs, standards for setbacks from property will be set in the coming months by the environment ministry.
Smitherman said the distance currently envisioned is 500 metres - further than some existing wind turbine projects are from homes - but that the legislation would not be retroactive, so no turbines now in place would have to be moved.