By Rachel Fraser

Federal grants offered to Canadian homeowners for making energy-efficient changes are being phased out because they were too successful.

“They ran out of money,” said Trevor Genshorek, an energy evaluator with Upgrade Energy Advisory Ltd. in Kamloops, who has traveled to the Robson Valley to provide EnerGuide evaluations for local program participants.

So many Canadians took the government up on the Greener Homes Initiative that the program is closing the application window for the grant portion within two weeks, according to a government news release issued February 5th, almost a year earlier than the Dec 2024 deadline the government set out when the program rolled out in 2020. Natural Resources and Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkenson, who made the announcement, said that over half a million applications have been received, and 165,000 homeowners have received grants so far. He said that they were closing the applications to prepare the roll-out of the next phase of the Initiative, which would focus on low- to median-income households, giving them access to energy savings as well.

The Federal Greener Homes Initiative includes a grant of up to $5,000 (plus $600 towards the cost of the Energuide evaluations), which is closing, but the program will continue to offer a 10-year interest-free loan homeowners can apply for of up to $40,000 towards qualifying retrofits.

Wayne Wood from HomeTech Energy Solutions in Prince George, another energy evaluator who has done program evaluations in the Robson Valley said of the loan: “This is the thing that’s really driven the program over the last year and a half… It’s such a great deal.”

Once the applicant completes the pre-retrofit evaluation, and gets quotes for the work, they can apply for the loan through the online portal and get a response quickly for how much of the value of the work the program will cover.

“Typically, it’s most of the costs of whatever you’re doing,” Wood said.

However, he said the loan works a bit backwards, in that the homeowner doesn’t get that money until after they’ve completed the work and after he’s completed the post-retrofit inspection, confirming the equipment and/or materials were installed. The homeowner has to have access to the means to loan themselves the money until the government loans them the reimbursement, typically 5-6 weeks after the post retrofit evaluation is submitted.

The first step is to begin the grant application on the NRCan website. From there, you’re directed to choose an energy evaluator to complete your pre- and post-retrofit Energuide evaluations. There are many listed, but most would have to travel from the Lower Mainland or the Island. HomeTech Energy Solutions and Upgrade Energy Advisory are the closest, and like many professionals who serve the Valley from larger centres, try to coordinate multiple clients in a visit to share travel costs.

In the first of these evaluations, Genshorek says he measures the insulation, as well as the windows and doors, does a calculation on the mechanical equipment (furnace, HRV, etc), and then does a blower door test, which fills it with negative pressure and checks for leaks. He then plugs the collected information into an online NRCan tool, which generates a report. Based on the report, he recommends upgrades that would benefit the homeowner and the home. The report also calculates a savings forecast, which he says gives customers some confidence in the value of their investment.

A provincial rebate program through CleanBC, with partners BC Hydro and Fortis, also offers incentives in four overlapping categories: insulation, windows and doors, heat pumps and water heaters. The BC Hydro website offers up to $10,000 in rebates, but the program is geared towards people whose homes are already primarily heated by electricity. Additionally, in order to access the insulation or heat pump rebates, installations are required to be done by a Home Performance Contractor Network (HPCN) member. None of the three qualifying contractors in Prince George travel to the Robson Valley, nor did any that the Goat contacted in Kamloops, Quesnel or Williams Lake. Robson Valley Ventures and Adrenaline Services both install heat pumps and Robson Valley Ventures is currently working on becoming certified with HPCN to help local homeowners access grants. The Goat was unable to find any local homeowners who’d participated in the Provincial rebate program, nor had the energy evaluators we spoke to worked with any locals who had accessed rebates.

Homes heated by oil, propane or natural gas fall under the Fortis program, which offers rebates to switch to more efficient natural gas equipment, which would not be applicable in the Valley.

Despite the federal and provincial push for heat pumps, it’s still a novel enough technology that finding a qualified installer can be very difficult.

“Heat pump is the toughest one, even here (in Prince George),” said Wood.

He said the most popular grant category he does is windows, and that many people are surprised at the difference upgrading to triple pane windows from windows installed in the 70s and 80s makes.

Second in popularity is solar panels.

“They’re very affordable now,” he said. “And if you get the loan, your savings on hydro, in many cases, pay your 10-year interest-free loan off, so they’re almost free.”

Program participants whose applications are in already (and presumably those who rush theirs in before the cut-off) will have until 2027 to complete the requirements and qualify for the funds.