Energy auditors speak out, and they’re angry

Earlier I had a post that asked energy auditors and anyone else affected by the premature halting of the federal ecoEnergy program to share their concerns. Dozens wrote back, and for the most part they’re extremely disappointed with the federal government but still holding out hope that the provinces will step up to fill the gap, or that the feds will have second thoughts. Here is a sample of how the decision to scrap the federal program is affecting folks:

Laid off 4 of the 5 I originally hired. Laying off 2 to 3 more staff over the next few weeks. No plans on hiring the 12 staff I was originally going to hire. $1.5 million in sales disappeared. I do not know if my company will have enough sales in my other divisions to keep the larger rental space I took specifically for solar. I may have to claim bankruptcy because of this early cancellation of a program that was supposed to run until March 31, 2011. I expect a dramatic slow down (to virtually zero) of Solar, furnaces, air conditioners and HRV’s. I would guess that tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs prematurely. I heard today that it is affecting over 2,000 eco energy auditors alone… Some would say it was ending in March 2011 anyway. Yes, but at least we were able to plan for it…. The government of Canada should be sued for this sudden change in a very successful program that put people to work, saved homeowners a lot of money on monthly operating costs of their homes and, most importantly, reduced the carbon foot print of each house, helping save the environment. Peter Watson, Tranquility Home Comfort Ltd.

I find myself in a similar situation to many others.  Actually, I lost my job about 3 months ago and am seriously thinking about becoming and energy auditor.  I understand that the market’s been good for those people in recent months due to the govt incentives, but I dont want to end up wasting 6 months and losing more money. Ash Mann

Just when I was seriously considering doing an energy audit of my home, I read your column in yesterday’s paper about the EcoEnergy retrofit program is no longer accepting applications required to qualify for incentives.  This is very disappointing to people who have managed to save some money to replace old windows and doors, insulation, new furnace etc. and were looking to get a sort of bonus back from the government… I guess I’m not sure if getting an energy audit for my home is still worth it. Vicky

This topic is very close to my heart, and the hearts of many of my fellow students at Durham College. There are approximately 120 of us enrolled in the Energy audit techniques/Renewable energy technician program. The first year focused on energy auditing while the second is on renewables. Many of us were counting on working throughout the summer as energy advisors. We all thought that we were ideal candidates considering we were enrolled in Ontario’s first ever, year long program dedicated to energy auditing. All other auditors in the field have taken a minimum 1 week course with their service organization. In fact, there are 24 of us at the college, myself included, that have spent thousands of dollars for all of the necessary equipment to perform energy assessments. Needless to say, we were very disappointed on March 31st when the federal Energy Minister announced that the ecoEnergy program was to be suspended. Essentially, with three weeks to go in the program, the industry we were about to enter had collapsed… Many of us at Durham College will receive a well deserved Energy Advisor certificate that is not even worth the paper it is printed on. To add insult to injury, for those of us in the Second Career program, our living allowance ends the moment we receive our useless certificate. It’s going to be a long, hot summer. Frank Lopez

I teach energy auditing and solar energy technology topics here at St. Lawrence College in Kingston. I am also co-owner of a solar installation contracting firm here. The news of the immediate cancellation of the program came as a shock and substantial blow to our students. Several had summer jobs lined up or were close to landing jobs with EcoEnergy audit firms. Residential auditing is the focus of an entire course that we have been working through all winter, and the short-term prospects of work in this area just went to near zero. Government policy ultimately threatens my job too. No jobs in industry = declining college enrollment. I am new here and will be the first out the door… We were particularly annoyed (but not surprised) that the government managed to deliver the shot on the eve of a holiday weekend, when news coverage and interest would be minimal. I am ashamed to see our country sliding backwards on energy issues — there was no suggestion of a replacement for the program. Certainly it could be improved — perhaps more emphasis on rental housing and low income Canadians and reducing payments to high net worth individuals who would have done it anyway. Ian Kilborn

The financial impact on many is extraordinary. Our company spent $100K training 12 advisors last month, now we have no work for them. If we had 3 months notice we would have made different financial decisions. The 25 hour notice we received has caused much grief. Had our company known ahead of time we would not have invested in inventory, home shows, training and so on since January. The federal government licensed Service Organizations to invest in the energy assessment business, but we are treated very badly. As a large number of energy advisors expected to leave the program there will not be enough to carry out the assessments for the homeowners. As well, with the Green Energy Act and the mandatory audits coming out soon, the province will have to re-think how they will phase this in, if here are only a few energy auditors available. There are hundreds of layoffs this week as homeowners cancel renovation projects and geothermal installations. I estimate the job losses will be between 5,000 and 10,000 over the coming 12 months. Philip Ridge, Ridge Energy Consultants Inc.

As for our business, Village Technologies, we have seen a major drop in interest and willingness to make the right investments from our retrofit client base.  We had at least four clients call us right after the feds announced they were cutting the program and asked 1) We thought we had until next year – what happened? (And do you or the industry in general know what you’re doing?) This doubt was cast on all of us when the government abruptly changed plans; and 2) Can we really afford to do this now, or should we just go for the cheapest installed cost equipment? The second question was not really a question from some of the clients. They’ve said they’re just not doing proper levels of insulation now, and that probably they’ll just try to keep going with those 20-plus year old windows. And geothermal? Not even an option on tight budgets. Even more troubling is that, as of last week, Ontario also suspended their program. Greg Bonser, Village Technologies

As of April 6 there were 1,951 Certified Energy Advisors in Canada, many of these individuals with specialized training, knowledge and experience will be leaving the industry, as they did when the Feds cancelled EnerGuide in 2006. How is this workforce supposed to mature and develop into a sustainable industry to help guide the retrofits of the 90% of Canadian homes that have NOT been evaluated for energy efficiency? No doubt they will launch some new program at a politically opportune moment, and those organizations and individuals that have stuck it out will have to scramble to ramp up once again — although with some trepidation at investing resources when the rug keeps keeping pulled out from under us. As an aside, why did the feds increase their grants by 25% one year ago instead of holding the course (grants already generous enough) and doing more houses? Could they not do some simple forecasting? Steve Walker, Hearthmakers Energy Co-Op

 As a geothermal designer & installer, for 20+ years, I experienced the growth in the average homeowner switching to geothermal, when the Federal EcoEnergy was operating.  It is unfortunate for both our economy and climate, as this market will retract as a result of the federal government announcement March31st of the cancellation of the Federal EcoEnergy energy efficiency grants. The economic stimulous initiated by the EcoEnergyy program I can attest to as being significant and especially helpful in allowing employment in good jobs in my small town. Chip Loughead

I just finished the training course and haven’t written the test or even completed a single audit on my own, yet. So my opinion may be based more on wishful thinking than factual evidence. But you DID ask, didn’t you? Sooo… If you consider the people who were at least somewhat receptive to audits in the first place, I suspect they can be divided into three groups. The first group, probably a substantial minority, was only in it for whatever rebate was available. Now that the rebate’s been cut in half, we’ve lost a lot of them. Too bad. That’s life. The second group, likely quite small and at the other end of the spectrum, is so green that they’d go ahead at twice the cost. So this decision won’t affect them at all. The remainder is, I hope, in the majority. They may be skeptical but I think we can convince a lot of them to go ahead if we emphasize the potential savings down the road. Richard Griffith

I consider this an outrage. Having gotten into the program just days before the quiet announcement last Wednesday, we were planning some major retrofits to our home, including a solar water heater, a tankless water heating system, and an HRV. Apparently, there is no guarantee that we will get the rebates promised by the feds. The industry is reeling. Even Enbridge, I gather, was blind-sided by this program cancellation, almost a year to the day earlier than expected. How typical of this government. Lorraine Tinsley

This was not the first time this had happened, as the Energuide for Homes program, the predecessor to this program, ended in exactly the same fashion. And when the new one was instated, we had to be retrained and recertified, the program was opened to the public while the software was very buggy and therefore not ready and all the previous literature was reprinted with the new EcoEnergy logo, wasting millions of taxpayers money, just so that the Harper government can call it their own program. Now that the program has ended, we are not even eligible for EI as we are considered self employed, since we are paid by the visit, and not a fulltime salary. This is not acceptable because in this economic environment, with families to support and bills to pay, the government is supposed to make it easier for people to work, not harder. Ned Haddad

This is just a sample of what I’ve received so far from readers… they keep trickling in. I’m hearing the federal government may be designing a similar but more streamlined program to be launched this fall, but why the stop-and-start? Do politicians not understand that markets can’t be created and businesses can’t develop in starts and stops, especially when the stops come without warning? Where’s the voice of opposition political parties on this issue?

More to come…