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Saltwire | High uptake on home energy upgrades as Stratford, P.E.I. wraps up Switch program funding

STRATFORD, P.E.I. — A program offering Stratford residents an opportunity to make their homes more energy efficient has seen “tremendous uptake”, say town officials.

In less than a year, the Town of Stratford has exhausted its allotted share of $14.1 million in funding through its Switch Stratford program, which launched in July 2021.

The program, led by PACE Atlantic and funded by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, was split between Stratford, Charlottetown and Wolfville, N.S. It offered zero per cent interest loans for residents to make energy efficient upgrades to their homes, such as installing heat pumps, new windows, new insulation or even installing solar panels.

In a May 27 release, the Town of Stratford said the reason for the quick uptake of the program by residents could be due to the increasing costs of oil and living, which saw large increases over the winter and spring.

Darren MacDougall, town councilor, said being energy conscious is also something Stratford residents are mindful of.

“I think the community, in general, is aware – aware of rising energy costs and aware of the benefits, whether it be to the environment or whatnot, of these cleaner energy options,” he said. “I think that played a major role.”

Offering these upgrades with no upfront costs and zero per cent interest payable over 15 years was also likely an attractive incentive for residents to upgrade their homes, said MacDougall.

“Essentially, with these energy upgrades, you’re going to reduce your energy consumption, meaning your energy bill will be reduced monthly,” said MacDougall.

“With a payment plan over 15 years at zero interest, just doing simple math, you are going to be way ahead.”

Of the $14.1 million, Stratford received $2.45 million for loans, the bulk of which were used for solar panels, the most popular choice among residents who participated in the program, said MacDougall.

What residents chose to use the money for depended heavily on the initial free efficiency assessment that was offered to participants.

For Brent Taylor, a Stratford resident who participated in the program, his assessment showed his house would benefit from a mini split heat pump as well as insulation for his basement, which is where he spends most of his workdays.

“Based on the report, it recommended several options, and those two were fairly high up on the list of things the report said would be good ideas to do,” he said.

Taylor said he always considered trying to make his home more efficient but never felt an urgency to do the upgrades until he attended a public meeting about the Switch Stratford program.

“I think the program definitely tipped me over the edge to actually get moving and get things done,” he said.

“I hadn’t seriously thought about a timeline on doing these types of things. When the program came out, they didn’t say there was a deadline to it, but I realized quite quickly that if I didn’t apply right away, I may get lost in the shuffle.”

Seeing the Town of Stratford push a program promoting energy efficient upgrades has made Taylor more confident in the future of the community, and he hopes more programs like this will be created to allow for opportunities to become more energy efficient.

Across the bridge in Charlottetown, the program is also seeing steady uptake from residents. Hammad Ahmed, energy co-ordinator for the City of Charlottetown, said as of the end of May, there were 408 participants in the Switch Charlottetown program.

Unlike Stratford, though, heat pumps were the most requested upgrade, with 41.36 per cent of the total projects.

“Heat pumps are the first step towards reducing your energy load in your household. Once you have your energy load reduced, then comes the solar panels,” he said.

“What I mean by that is, if you put solar on your house, if your electric load is high, your solar system would not be able to provide you with all the electric consumption you need.”

Ahmed said he is happy to see a lot of uptake for heat pumps, as they are more efficient and offer health benefits such as air filtration and cooling.

While Stratford has wrapped up its portion of the program, limiting the remainder of its allotment to projects in their final phase, Charlottetown still has some funding left, however it is limited, said Ahmed.

Once the funding is gone, the city will re-evaluate to see if it will chase more funding for a similar program, although the zero per cent interest rate likely won’t carry over, said Ahmed.

“It’s going to be hard to near impossible to get that again,” he said.

“We would love to offer similar programs as much as we can. We are doing our best to find further funding for the residents and would like to see this program continues. However, that depends on how much the federal and provincial partners want to jump in and help out.”

With the program over, Stratford is weighing its options for the future, said MacDougall.

“Now we’re faced with a situation where we can still finance these projects with an interest rate, but what we are hoping to do is re-establish more funding with that zero per cent interest. We’re looking into those options now,” he said.

For Taylor though, even though the program’s original funding is gone, he still intends to make more energy efficient upgrades to his home in the future.

“As a matter of fact, I’ve been working on another thing to have done to the house which is to switch away from oil heat to electric heat,” he said.

“In the long run, it will probably save money, but the main reason for me is its renewable. Oil is not renewable. You take it out of the ground and it’s gone.

“I’m still motivated enough to have this done and fund it myself to get it done, because I think it’s important.”