Ontario election puts end to heat pump rebates

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By Leah Den Hartogh

Less than a year ago the Ontario government announced an aggressive $1.2-billion three-year program to help businesses and industry adopt low-carbon technologies and up to $1.2 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in buildings. The Liberal government funded this with profits from its annual cap and trade carbon market auction.

Everything changed with the Ontario election on June 7. Douglas (Doug) Ford was elected premier as his Progressive Conservative party swept to victory with 76 seats in Ontario legislature, while the Liberals saw their numbers shrink to just seven. One of Ford’s key election promises was to scrap the Ontario cap and trade program and fight federal carbon taxes. He followed through on June 19 when he announced the end of the Green Ontario (GreenON) fund.

It provided rebates of up to $20,000 to install geothermal heat pumps, up to $4,500 to repair existing geothermal systems, and up to $5,800 to install air source heat pumps. Rebate programs have long been a blessing and a curse for the industry and those contacted by Plumbing & HVAC had mixed feelings.

Jim Bolger (Waterloo Energy Products), president of Ontario Geothermal Association, who has long said that when the Liberals are in power the geothermal industry does well, was philosophical about the election result.

Interviewed just after the election, he hoped the new government wouldn’t change the GreenON program until it had spoken to stakeholders. “I think that at first the approach is not so much about battling climate change or carbon emission reductions but on putting forward a case for job creation and tax revenue that’s supported by programs like GreenON.

“We’ve got a business case and a story to tell and hopefully the new government will be open to listening to that approach,” he added. “I hope that we have a chance to better explain why that’s probably not a bad approach and we can show that it’s not going to be a burden on the taxpayers.” Unfortunately, the OGA didn’t get the opportunity to make its case.

Good for small business

Mario Bernardi, executive director of the ClimateCare Co-operative, a contactor group headquartered in Burlington, Ont., said he is hopeful the new Ford government will be reactive to the needs of people, especially small businesses.

Contractors have expressed concern over the government pushing energy efficiency rebate programs onto the industry over the years, both federally and provincially.

“While we certainly appreciate the artificial stimulation of the marketplace and the artificial effect it has on equipment prices with the rebate program, our opinion is to leave things alone and let the marketplace dictate,” said Bernardi.

“We end up having these ebbs and flows of activity that in the end hurt everyone involved.” If the rebate programs are removed, it will take time for customers and contractors to adjust, he added. “We’ve had rebates for so long on the federal and provincial level that not only have our customers got used to it, but our members are used to it too. Now, it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction that we expect rebates to be out there.”

Nancy McKeraghan of Canco ClimateCare Heating and Air Conditioning, Newmarket, Ont. agreed, but was skeptical about the PC plan to get rid of Green ON. “The industry has already been skewed by some of these rebate programs. I believe that it is a good thing to preserve the environment and go along with the Paris Accord. I don’t know if some of the programs that have been initiated under the Green ON program currently are particularly good.”

Wayne Langford, president of Design Air Climatecare, Toronto, is encouraged by the new PC government. “Rebates (over the years) started off not bad but as more special interest groups got in they started to go in the wrong direction and not achieve what we wanted to achieve – and that is system performance efficiency in a house. Just because you put a high SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) air conditioning unit in, it doesn’t mean that it is going to perform that way,” added Langford.

Significant changes expected

Warren Heeley, president of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada, who is retiring at the end of June, noted that the shift away from the Green ON program will be one of the more significant impacts of the election. “The second thing is that there has been a larger strategy that has to do with a low-carbon economy. Are the PCs going to continue with that, or are they going to change things, whether a little bit or radically?”

McKeraghan is hopeful in the ability of those around Ford. “One of the things that I am encouraged about is that there were some savvy people elected along with Premier Ford. I have confidence that they will receive promotions to enable them to rein in some of the concerns about Mr. Ford and his capabilities,” said McKeraghan. “It’s best to sit back, and wait and see,” she added

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