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Staying power will be the key to success for Alberta’s new energy efficiency programs

Energy Efficiency Q & A: Jesse Row, Executive Director, Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance (AEEA) and new CEEA board member

Q: Alberta finally has an energy efficiency agency, what do you think will contribute to making it a success?

Jesse Row and the AEEA led the charge for new energy efficiency programs in Alberta.

A: It’s great to see Alberta getting back into energy efficiency. After just a few months of new programs, it’s already been successful. There’s a lot of interest from Albertans in the programs and we expect it will grow as more programs are added.

Q: How does EEA compare to other agencies and programs across Canada?

A: Energy Efficiency Alberta is obviously a different approach than programs that are led by utilities across the country. The closest comparison at this point is Efficiency Nova Scotia, which was been referenced fairly often while EEA was being set up.

The basic approach to energy efficiency programs is fairly similar to all other provinces, however. Energy Efficiency Alberta is just getting started so there are only four programs currently, but the number of programs will increase over time as the budget for the next three years is $566 million.

This will place Alberta about middle of the road compared with other provinces when it comes to per capita program funding. It’s an amazing start for a province that was the only one without any consumer programs only a year ago.

Q: What was your role in helping to establish these new programs?

A: The Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance has been leading the charge when it comes to calling for new energy efficiency programs in the province.

When the current Climate Leadership Plan was being developed, we were very active in raising awareness around the role energy efficiency can play in not only reducing emissions, but reducing costs and creating jobs at the same time. I believe our involvement significantly increased the level of ambition that Alberta now has around energy efficiency.

I also had the opportunity to sit on the government’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel last year. The panel gathered input from all corners of the province and made recommendations for EEA’s initial set of programs and their long-term vision. These initial programs were designed to be accessible to all Albertans and Alberta organizations, and were able to be launched quickly with low risk. Over the long term, the panel recommended that Energy Efficiency Alberta build a diverse portfolio of programs similar to those seen in other provinces.

Q: What part of Energy Efficiency Alberta’s work could prove challenging?

A: The biggest challenge we have is to ensure energy efficiency programming lasts over the long term. We know that consistent programming is the best way to achieve significant energy savings.

This is a top priority for the Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance while we continue to work on other policy changes such as adoption of national building codes, enabling municipalities to offer property-tied financing such as PACE and mandate building energy labelling, creating energy efficiency programs for large industry in Alberta, and the integration of energy efficiency into Alberta’s utility system. On the last item in particular, a best practice that we currently see for energy efficiency is to have a clear mandate for utility regulators and others to pursue all cost effective energy efficiency. We’re not there yet in Alberta, but it’s certainly a goal worth pursuing.

Q: What do you consider the most innovative, best-in-class EE programs in North America, Europe?

A: I haven’t looked closely at Europe, but the programs in Massachusetts have been cited as leaders in North America. I think it’s really encouraging to hear that these programs continue to capture increasing amounts of energy efficiency even though they’re already leading the pack. It shows we have a long way to go in Alberta and the rest of Canada before we hit a limit on how much energy efficiency we should be pursuing, if there is a limit.

Q: In terms of the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change which province do you consider a leader on cutting emissions?

A: Certainly Ontario needs to be given kudos for the coal phase out they did a number of years ago. Alberta is now on that path and it’s looking like carbon pricing policies may drive this transition even faster than originally expected. Other provinces shouldn’t be ignored though because they didn’t have coal-fired power plants to begin with. It will be really interesting to see which ones will take the next step to reducing their emissions even further and I expect energy efficiency will need to play a big role in meeting deep emission reduction targets – especially because efficiency can also help with bringing down costs along the way.

Q: We know the power energy efficiency has to cut GHG emissions. How do renewables compare and how can they work together?

A: Deep emission reductions require both efficiency and renewables. You can’t get there with only one.

Energy efficiency has the advantage of being lower cost than any form of new generation, so it can really help with keeping costs manageable for consumers.

The demand response side of energy efficiency can also help with the integration of renewable energy into the electricity grid as it increases the flexibility of an increasingly complex system. The timing couldn’t be better, in fact, with new smart products coming into the marketplace at the same time as a push for more renewables. We just need to put systems in place to take advantage of it all.

Posted June 26, 2017