Will NB curb energy growth?

Efficiency NB started work approximately roughly 15 months ago based on the model of Efficiency Vermont. The Vermont agency has been in operation since the year 2000 and seems to be well organized. The New Brunswick counterpart has a budget of $25 million per year, 16 people on staff and housing inspections are contracted out to four inspection companies.

The Liberal election platform indicated that they wanted an aggressive approach to conservation via this agency, and if I remember correctly, it was suggested that more than 10,000 houses per year might be done with a budget of $50 million. The promises have been scaled back.

In a recent meeting with the Minister of Energy Jack Keir and President of the Agency Elizabeth Weir, the goals of Efficiency New Brunswick were discussed. The new Liberal government has added a number of programs to better serve various sectors such as industrial, commercial, multiple unit residences in addition to single family homes.

It has processed 1500 housing efficiency evaluations since April 2007 but it is too early to say how many of these projects will go ahead.

Growing a new agency of this size always presents problems. There are training issues to be addressed, concerns about the size of the available contractor workforce to accomplish the renovations, monitoring and ensuring that the programs are the best fit, and getting the message out to the people that help is available.

One of the interesting programs is the subsidy for T8 fluorescents as a replacement for the standard T12 four-foot tubes. This newer technology will save between 7 and 22% on lighting energy based on the replacement wattage chosen.

The CFL program is based mainly on education and getting retail stores to stock larger variety of the compact fluorescents in anticipation of the Federal government introduction of efficiency standards in 2011. This will likely remove 95% of incandescents from the marketplace. While the Province was one of the early proponents of a virtual ban on incandescent bulbs, Minister Keir and I part company on the timing of implementation. The minister sees the private sector as leading the way to CFL promotion in a gradual way by 2011. I see this as “fiddling while Rome burns”.

Our difference in opinion is based on:

1) The timing of world oil production peaking. My guess would be approximately five years. He indicated that he believes it is probably more than ten years hence.

2) The severity of impact a shortage of oil will have on the economy and price of oil. The minister indicated that he expects a gradual adjustment of the economy as it becomes clear that oil is peaking. In contrast, my interpretation is based on the 1973 and 1979 oil embargo where the price of oil increased by a factor of four. Additionally, the ability of the world and New Brunswick to adjust to high oil prices on a continual basis will be difficult to achieve at high fuel prices.

It is said that 30% of the homes in New Brunswick were built prior to 1960. It is difficult to say how many have been already upgraded, but supposing that 50,000 required a substantial amount of work to come close to modern energy standards. Given the minister’s time frame to peak oil, up to 5000 homes should be upgraded each year. With a contractor doing one home upgrade a week, it would take roughly 100 contractors to meet this schedule. With new home construction, commercial work and the evacuation of the trades to Alberta, can this level be obtained?

If you believe my prediction of five years to peak oil, then 10,000 homes should be completed each year requiring 200 hundred contractors. This is a massive undertaking. Although improving the energy performance of homes is not a total fix to the extreme energy prices that are inevitable, do we have any choice but to lower the carbon footprint and energy usage of our housing stock?

I am going to make an unsubstantiated guess that Efficiency NB is not going to get anywhere near the 5000 housing upgrades that would be a promising level. A full annual report will be published in November 2007 and the public should know whether some measure of success has been obtained.

We agree there are big energy problems coming down the pipe. We disagree on timing and severity. We agree that Efficiency NB is very necessary for many reasons. What is unclear at this moment is whether the Efficiency NB plane has taken off or is just taxiing down the runway. Both Jack Keir and Elizabeth Weir have good intentions but by December we will have to seriously evaluate the program and make the necessary adjustments. Failure of this agency to thrive and fulfill its mandate is not an option.

Jack Keir has shown more leadership in the Energy field in one year than many of his predecessors. However, the Department is facing unprecedented challenges of enormous proportions. Many have suggested that a total re-engineering of our society is required to power down our economy to a level that will be required and is sustainable. The investment to accomplish this could be similar to that done in WWII. The danger to our personal welfare is just as great.

Sustainable + growth have been put into the same sentence by this government and that’s an oxymoron. Sustainability requires us to leave sufficient resources for coming generations but actively promoting population growth makes that considerably more difficult. The natural gas from the McCully field will likely be completely exported within 25 years successfully heating the homes of the Boston area. Does this sound like a self-sufficiency and sustainability program to you?

A friend told me that the over $400 million dollars being spent by the province on new roads is part of the Linear Oil Strategic Reserve. You might recognize the acronym (LOSR). When we get short of oil, we can tear up the pavement and recover the oil. Just like the tar sands.

If Shawn Graham were to seriously re-evaluate the direction of his self-sufficiency mandate, he might look less like the captain of the Titanic. There is an iceberg out there in the future whether it is five or ten years away. And there is no time to lose in changing course.

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One comment

  1. brunsie · September 10, 2007

    One issue that Efficiency NB has yet to formally tackle (and doesn’t really like to discuss) is the practice of NB utilities to offer a declining block rate – in effect, offering a volume discount to all those who wish to use a lot of electricity.

    It’s too bad this one isn’t openly discussed. As long as it exists, it undermines everyone of Efficiency NB’s residential programs.

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