Energy poverty and climate change represent a direct threat to working-class people in Nova Scotia. As a society, we must work together to ensure households with low incomes can transition away from expensive fossil fuels to technologies like heat pumps that are cheaper, better for our health and afford us the comforts associated with heating and cooling.
Policymakers are finally rising to meet this challenge. The Ecology Action Centre applauds the Government of Canada’s announcement of additional rebates to help ensure that heat pumps will be available at no cost for households below the median provincial income – many of whom are struggling with energy poverty across Atlantic Canada.
We are also encouraged to see that additional mechanisms will be introduced to support the transition to heat pumps for those at all income levels, including the introduction of new low-interest loans for households at all income levels to ensure that upfront costs to heat pump adoption are no longer a barrier. This will contribute to significant cost savings to households across the country, helping to reduce energy poverty in Atlantic Canada and accelerate the transition away from burning fossil fuels to heat our homes.
While carbon pricing remains an essential policy tool for achieving emissions reductions, the EAC recognizes the value of a temporary exemption for fuel oil heating while measures are put in place to accelerate the transition away from heating with oil. This announcement represents a significant step forward, but there is more to be done: experts across Canada are recommending a $27 billion investment over the next decade to facilitate no-cost, turn-key heat pump adoption and deep-energy retrofits including better insulation and building envelopes, aimed at low-income households across Canada. Households will also need to be given further support with sourcing equipment and installation, and energy efficiency providers in Nova Scotia must ensure that consumers can easily navigate contractors, products, and disposal of old heating systems. We hope to see both the provincial and federal government coming forward to fill these additional gaps in supporting households.
For decades, Nova Scotians have disproportionately suffered the consequences of living in energy poverty due to our reliance on heating oil, an expensive and carbon-intense method of heating our homes. Roughly 39 per cent of Nova Scotians rely on oil for home heating, along with along with 56 per cent of households in P.E.I. About 15 per cent of New Brunswickers and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians also rely on oil. This reality has been a key driver of the phenomenon known as energy poverty, whereby a household spends more than six per cent of income on home energy (electricity and heat). According to the Nova Scotia Affordable Energy Coalition, nearly one in three Nova Scotians are estimated to live in energy poverty.
Anyone relying on oil to heat their home has become accustomed to energy bills which can amount to thousands of dollars per month during the winter. Efficiency Nova Scotia estimates that the average household using oil furnaces or boilers pays nearly $5,000 in annual space-heating costs. More and more, low-income households across Atlantic Canada are struggling to pay utility bills and are forced to make impossible choices between paying for utilities or other necessities such as food, medicine, or rent.
Heat pumps have the potential to significantly reduce energy poverty and carbon emissions by providing cheap, efficient electric heating and cooling. Efficiency Nova Scotia estimates that a heat pump could reduce heating costs in the average home in Nova Scotia by 70 per cent, while reducing carbon emissions by 35 per cent with emissions reductions increasing to 100 per cent as Nova Scotia transitions away from coal fired electricity.
Heat pumps can also act as a source of cooling, offering up to 400 per cent efficiency. A recent report, released alongside an interactive heat pump cost calculation tool by the Canadian Climate Institute, found that switching to a heat pump in Halifax could reduce annual space heating and cooling costs in a single-detached house to just $1,500, with even greater reductions possible in other residential building types. It’s no surprise that heat pump use has skyrocketed in Atlantic Canada in recent years: 21 per cent of households in Nova Scotia now rely on heat pumps as their primary heating source, along with 32 per cent of households in New Brunswick and 27 per cent of households in P.E.I.
When decision makers work together, it is possible to find solutions. It is possible to eradicate energy poverty and to fight climate change at the same time. It is possible to ensure that a transition away from fuel oil heating in Atlantic Canada is simple and makes life more affordable for the people who need these solutions the most. We also look forward to seeing the Government of Nova Scotia introduce new regulations in 2024 to better support all households in energy poverty, to prevent disconnections in the short term, and help them achieve bill savings through energy efficiency in the long run.
Senior Energy Coordinator | Ecology Action Centre
(902) 429-2202 ext. 177