A Canadian charity with offices in Vancouver and Prince Rupert has launched a campaign to protect basic energy access for British Columbians during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
Ecotrust Canada launched its campaign on April 29, calling the provincial government to provide direct bill relief for low-income households by creating a basic energy rebate.
Among other asks, the campaign also calls the provincial government to commit to a housing renewal strategy that ensures every home and building in B.C. meets “rigorous” climate and health standards.
Graham Anderson, community energy initiative director for Ecotrust Canada, told the Observer that if the campaign is successful it could have a “huge impact” on residents of Haida Gwaii, because rural, remote and Indigenous communities currently face some of the highest energy costs in the province.
“In remote communities, because of reliance on diesel for electricity, like parts of Haida Gwaii, household energy costs have been as much as $4,500 annually on average,” Anderson said.
He also noted that BC Hydro rates are 20 to 40 per cent higher for customers on Haida Gwaii.
“People in those communities are more likely to be at risk of facing energy poverty and struggling to pay very high utility bills,” he said.
Anderson applauded the steps the B.C. government and utilities had taken to provide short-term relief for energy bills during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, such as offering a three-month bill holiday for those affected by COVID-19.
However, he said “an extension of those programs would provide additional protection for anybody on Haida Gwaii who may be facing job insecurity because of the crisis.”
The proposed basic energy rebate, he said, would also have “a direct impact on reducing utility bills for low-income customers on the island.”
“Haida Gwaii has actually been a leader already in demonstrating the potential for some of the low-carbon solutions that are out there,” he added. “So heating system retrofits like the heat pumps already installed in Skidegate could be a major part of recovery efforts across B.C.”
In 2016, the Skidegate Band Council completed retrofits to transition almost every home from electric baseboards or oil furnaces to the use of more efficient and environmentally-friendly heat pumps, which extract heat from the cold outside air and move it indoors.
Anderson said Ecotrust Canada will be bringing the campaign forward to the provincial government and utilities in the coming months. In the meantime, the charity is looking for organizational partners to sign on, and calling B.C. residents to send letters to Premier John Horgan, MLAs and ministers responsible for energy, housing, and poverty reduction.
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