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Update energy efficiency programs or see them phased out

Ontario’s Fridge and Freezer Pickup Program may be dead, but it still has energy savings to deliver, it just needs retooling

SaveOnEnergy cancelled

Is that all there is? Since 2006 365,000 fridges and freezers were removed in Ontario, saving enough power for 19,000 homes for a year.

For anyone who has ever bought a house and found an ancient second fridge sitting in a garage or basement you may be familiar with provincial programs that would take that fridge away at no charge or offer a rebate. But if you weren’t aware of any those programs, that may be one reason why some of those initiatives are being terminated. Ontario just stopped its saveONenergy Fridge & Freezer Pickup at the end of December. Ontario just stopped its saveONenergy Fridge & Freezer Pickup at the end of December, joining Alberta (although it’s talking about a new program), Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and PEI.

The other provinces have various approaches. Quebec has a low-income fridge replacement program and BC will continue its pickup and rebate progam in 2015, which is similar to Manitoba’s, while Nova Scotia and Newfoundland still have rebate programs.

While I understand nothing lasts forever I do believe there was still room for saveON energy’s program to deliver more energy savings. Innovation continuously makes our appliances more efficient. According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), 1990s refrigerators use twice as much energy as 2013 fridges and 2014 products meeting DOE standards will provide an estimated 25 per cent more in energy savings than their 2013 counterparts.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to evaluate when a program should be ditched or retooled.

When to stop an energy efficiency program

The reasons for ending the program are laid out in the 2013 annual report from the OPA, which launched what was then known as the Great Refrigerator Roundup Program in 2006. The initial objective of the program was to remove old clunkers – inefficient second or replacement of full-sized refrigerators or freezers, with a secondary focus on getting rid of room air conditioners and dehumidifiers. The saveONenergy website allowed people with qualifying fridges and freezers to arrange for a free pickup by a decommissioning agent. By 2013 the retirement initiative had a 39 per cent decrease in participation from 2012 and a 67 per cent drop since 2011. And net annual energy savings for 2013 were 35 per cent lower due to that declining participation. The report said LDCs believed the program was near saturation and lower participation from customers gave them little incentive to spend time on the program.

How to improve an energy efficiency program

But the LDCs also pointed out that there were some built-in roadblocks to success and more savings. Barriers included the age of the qualifying fridges being increased to 20 years in 2013, the elimination of marketing from OPA and a lack of participating retailers. The average age of collected refrigerators in 2013 was 26.9 years and the average freezer was 28.6 years. That is surprisingly old. As highlighted earlier the energy efficiency of appliances increases every year, so energy savings can be found even if a refrigerator is 10 or 15 years old. So expanding the parameters of the program by lowering the eligible age of units would be an advantage as would including other appliances such as mini-fridges, window air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

There also needs to be targeted marketing, possibly to an older population living in older homes, and that marketing should be done from April to October which is the best time to for pickups. And to really ensure consumers are educated about the opportunity there should be point-of-sale materials about the program. Consumer experience findings in the report showed a sizable proportion of consumers with older appliances expressed a willingness to replace equipment through the program in the future – once they knew about the initiative. About one-half of respondents said they “definitely will participate” or “probably will participate”.

These recommendations were all featured in the OPA’s 2013 Consumer Program Evaluation.

The benefits of appliance replacement

I spoke with Bruce Rebel at AHAM Canada, about the unique benefits of a program like the appliance pickup. He links it to two things – empowering the consumer and meeting GHG goals. There isn’t much a consumer can do to make a difference when it comes to saving energy with a fridge or freezer. They run 24/7 and cannot be turned off or have temperature adjustments to save energy. Older units also have harmful chemicals like CFCs. Newer ones have HFCs, which are not ozone-depleting as are CFCs, but they are still a GHG. When fridges are recycled through a program such as saveONenergy those harmful chemicals are removed via a strict protocol.

AHAM submitted comments to the US EPA about using appliance replacements as a tool for state implementation plans to reduce CO2, a goal of the Obama administration. The association calls for a lot of things that make sense and go further than the recommendations in the OPA report. Among them, have a program that links purchasing and disposal, remove age limits for eligible products, introduce rebates for DOE-compliant and Energy Star units, instigate a procedure for ensuring replaced fridges are removed from the grid, use a mechanism to review results and continue the program if warranted, and perhaps most importantly, industry should support an educational and promotional campaign with EPA and DOE.

What will it take to revive the program?

Is it a tweak, a restructuring or something completely different? LDCs admit in the OPA report that the refrigerator pickup program is a useful conversation starter and popular. But we need to make sure it delivers on saving energy by taking inefficient appliances off the grid. We know that consumers need education about saving energy and energy efficiency and that they respond to incentives. We’ve sent a letter to Terry Young, the VP of Conservation and Corporate Relations at IESO (formerly OPA) asking for some transparency about how decisions are made and what it would take to get an appliance pickup program revived. We will keep you posted as to the response.

Posted January 28, 2014

McDonald Interior Colour 2014

Elizabeth McDonald is president of CEEA