quinn esq's picture

    Homes Going Green For Free.

    Deloraine Houle is getting on-the-job training through BUILD, which steers men and women into the building trades. She says, "My grandmother is kind of proud of me - I'm the first girl in my family in carpentry."

    "A new inner-city programs, the first of its kind on North America, could see 400 leaky North End rentals get energy retrofits in the next year.

    That's 400 down, 79,600 more to go.

    This fall, thanks to a tweak in Manitoba Hydro's legislation, two inner-city renovation agencies are hoping to go door to door, block by block, in the William Whyte neighbourhood offering renters thousands of dollars in renovations, effectively for free.

    Hydro fronts the cost of new insulation, high-efficiency furnaces, low-flow toilets and a menu of other green fixes, and then adds the cost to the renter's monthly bill. Because the home is using far less natural gas and electricity, the renter's bill goes down as much or more as the monthly payback on the retrofits. And, for the first time, the loan stays with the house. A renter doesn't have to pay it off if he moves, and the benefit rolls over to the new tenant.

    The idea has been percolating for years....

    "This is huge," said Shaun Loney, executive director of BUILD, one of the pioneers of inner-city energy retrofits. "This would be a game-changer for poverty reduction and climate-change mitigation."

    Text above from Winnipeg Free Press. Continued with discussion at Already Here....

    Image icon The Red River Riveter.jpg42.26 KB


    People have been asking about positive, constructive alternatives - and looking for ways to stimulate employment, without busting the deficit, in this economy.

    Well, this is about the best I've got at present. 

    Read the stories, see what you think.


    You behind this buddy? Thought you were just the wreaker of revenge. This will put paid on all of us - should have kept an eye on you while we had a chance. Ah well, good job, begrudgingly.

    I only wreak vengeance on weekends. 

    Rest of the time, I'm a constructive son of a bitch. Even wear a hard-hat.

    Awesome Q!  Now if Canadians could just send some of them communist central planning ideas down our way, it would be much appreciated.  

    What a great idea.  Excellent.  Those damned Canadians, always trying to show us up.

    I HATE it when they succeed.

    People in Canada and the States and beyond have been working to put the pieces together on this for years now, Ramona. While Manitoba Hydro has been testing it in the inner-city, there's a small utility (91,000 customers) called Mid-West Energy, out of Kansas, that has been running the largest program to date, called How$mart. About 750 customers have had work done to date, with the jobs coming in at around $6,000 each. Maybe not huge, but that's 50-100 jobs in a small area so far. And they're still scaling up.

    Another way people have been coming at it is through firms like Solar City, which offers Leases and PPA's on solar panels, so you don't have to pay upfront, but can pay for it per month or per kwh. They say they've done 28,000 buildings so far, which is great. But their customers have to have "excellent credit," and so far they haven't extended their offer to energy efficiency measures (though they just bought a firm in the EE field.) 

    20 years ago, we put almost all the pieces together in Ontario - a utility that would let people repay their bills on their utility bill; plus a great loan package, 10 years at prime; plus contractors, energy auditors and the rest. But we couldn't get the utility to provide the cash upfront, which meant people still had to deal with the banks... and we couldn't get the cost attached to the property, instead, it stayed with the person.

    Still, we got $150 million in retrofit work moving, so sortof a proof of principle for us. But we knew the tool wasn't easy enough to get anywhere near the uptake that is technically available. 

    With luck, this time we can get it offered both into middle income as well as lower-income families... both homes and apartments... both efficiency as well as renewable energy equipment... and with the utility paying upfront... the bill attached to the property... and local groups promoting this thing like crazy in their neighbourhoods. I mean, in many ways, why WOULDN'T people take this up? 

    It's always felt like if we could create this kind of financial tool - the way they created a series of new financing methods back during the depression and during earlier eras of governmental creativity - we could trigger an enormous explosion of jobs and activity. It's been frustrating, watching a field where the work was right in front of you, and the money almost literally leaking out of the walls... but without the tools to fix it. Housing got a boom after creating the long-term guaranteed mortgage, cars got their own customized financing methods, utilities who built power stations got their own long-term bonds - but all we had to work with were bloody bank loans, which were a complete hassle. 

    With luck, this'll help trigger something more. Every time I see one of the new people working on the program, it helps make it worthwhile though. Like the Aboriginal woman in the story, doing carpentry. 

    She's our Rosie the Riveter.

    The People's Republic of Berkeley has a good model. The city finances the panels, collects the cost over 20 years in the property tax which makes sense since the house value is enhanced. This overcomes reluctance to go solar if the owner fears moving before reaping the financial payback. The obligation stays with the house. Of course, your town must be in the clutches of the DFH, or you get no smart policy.

    We looked at this model Jolly, but it's run into legal hassles from the U.S. Feds as it was expanding. I think the problem was around where this obligation fell in the hierarchy of payments, should the house foreclose etc.

    Anyway, we preferred to have the cost paid for on the utility bill, which is where you get the energy savings - rather than on the property tax bill. Not only do utility bills have extremely high rates of payment, but they don't require buy-in from a Mayor and Council, and also... they don't end up smudging a good thing (energy savings) with something incredibly hated (property tax.)

    In the end, I'm hoping we get both models rolling out widely, and can see how and where and for what each one works best.

    As a hardcore tax scofflaw who nonetheless liked to keep his lights on, I will admit it that the utility never gets as deep in the hole as the taxman. Also, case in point Detroit, the taxman CAN get beat utterly, if things really collapse.

    I'm in awe.  We need to get Ed Begley and Bill Nye, the Science Guy behind this.  They're our two most visible Greenies.

    Those folks help, a lot. We've had a true ally up here in David Suzuki, who is basically considered a national saint. His TV show - The Nature of Things - made him the country's best known environmentalist, and scientists probably, and he's always been on board, pitching for us.

    Maybe somebody could check out that Kansas project and use it as a Middle-American example of what could be done... allied up with the cooler West Coast Solar City approach... throw in a bit of Manitoba or Minnesota focus on lower-income families, and you'd have covered the spectrum, politically. 

    They really missed a trick, in the initial Green Jobs push, by focussing mostly on low-income weatherization alongside tax credits for more middle class homes - and missing this great big opportunity. There are lots of ways to take middling amounts of cash and use it to incent utilities and pension funds and such to get into this kindof business. SolarCity alone has now raised hundreds of millions for its efforts, and has 1600 employees - but the opportunity goes way way beyond solar. 

    I should have known Suzuki would be involved.  He's a most eloquent spokesman for sensible earth caretaking.  I want to read more about this.  Thanks so much, Quinn, for bringing this here.  I live in Michigan's UP, where natural resources abound and the air is still clear.  We have plenty of wind and plenty of water.  We also have poor people and old houses.  We have lots of people who still work with their hands and dream of living off the grid. 

    All of those factors could work together and we could make something of this if we could just get our acts together and consider needs before wants.

    Quinn, thanks for the good work and congratulations for the successful outcome. A workable incentive to improve existing housing in a way that will pay off with increasing dividends for as long as the house stands. Great!   !!!    !!!!!!
     I am wondering about opposition the program might have encountered based on any vested interests which felt threatened and tried to block the initiative for indefensible reasons as opposed to the problem of just lining up capital willing to invest in an innovative scheme.

     There was another Canadian program in the past described to me by a builder from Manitoba [I believe] which encouraged innovative new construction which gave x dollars towards any construction which met set efficiency standards. That money could be used to offset additional costs to meet the standards or could be pocketed as a bonus if the standards could be met cheaply enough. Everything had to be documented and made publicly available so as to increase the pool of knowledge and show what could be done. Sounded very smart.
        I have not found anything about it online and would like to know more. You would likely know of it and have some knowledge of how it played out which you might like to share at some time in the future.
     Again, congratulations. The program will help a lot of people and may may eventually help us all.

    Hey Lulu, thanks for the congrats.

    For a while, Manitoba Hydro had a New Homes program, whereby the builder (or buyer) got an incentive for going above code. I think this has ended now. We tend to use incentives to help move the market, by getting builders used to new methods, and then... we raise the standard or code to the new level people are now used to. Thus, no further need for the incentive! ;-)

    As for opposition, well.... after having worked on this in numerous jurisdictions, the fact is that the only real opposition comes from within the utilities - the builders and trades and homeowners and governments and greens are all for it. Within the utilities, most often it's simply that utilities tend to be made up of people - especially engineers - who are trained to design and build and operate certain kinds of technologies. That may be coal or hydro-electric or nuclear or whatever, but what they most want in the world... is a new plant to play with. Which is understandable. 

    What is infuriating, however, is to watch them come up with a seemingly endless list of reasons (legal, economic, logistical, etc.) why financing energy efficiency work is impossible... as compared to building a power plant. Which is crazy-making, when you just step back and look at it. I mean, building a new power plant is an enormous, concentrated risk of billions of dollars, takes years worth of approvals, could be upended by environmental change at any moment, etc etc. Whereas homes are built and renovations made by the hundreds of thousands each year. Nonetheless, they make it sound like radically uncertain crazy talk to add insulation to a bloody wall.

    Anyhoo.... the key thing is that Manitoba has taken the next step.... and hopefully, we'll soon be passed by many others... and the game will truly be on. Changing the context for everyone. I'm hoping one of these days we get it to the point where we hit upon a Blue Box solution for recycling - where it's not some special activity that people have to work really hard to do, but just something that everybody does, and the whole system gets lifted to a new level. Cheers.

    Quinn, exciting project. What exactly does it mean to "attach the loan" to the property---specifically, how is the property owner involved? 

    I'm not sure what the final legal terminology will be in MB (and there likely will be some argy-bargy negotiations to come), but basically, the owner has to pay a fixed monthly fee, similar to that paid for natural gas hook-up, for example, where the owner has to pay $15/month or whatever.

    Republican Take-Home Message:

    Liberal hand-outs again!  If these people were serious about working like this, they would have gotten their daddies to send them to trade school!  They wouldn't depend on freebies like "adding stuff to rental payments!  What a scandal!"

    My Take-Home Message:

    Bravo, Quinn, for letting us all know about this excellent program.  Be glad that Ryan/Romney aren't working to ruin it for Canada like they are working so hard to ruin social security, medicare, and medicaid.


    Q, I didn't realize you were involved in the project until I read the comments. Fantastic work! Congrats!

    Thanks, Genghis. Next time I start work on something, I hope someone'll tell me beforehand that it's gonna take 20 years. 

    Of course, someone probably did. Bah. What did they know, eh?

    We didn't know it'd take you so long - otherwise we would have offshored it

    In case anyone wants more info, perhaps to point their local pols or activists toward, I'll post up some more official links:

    Here's the basic enabling legislation. Scroll down to On Meter Efficiency Improvements Program. 

    And here's the Premier with a couple of riffs. 

    Two more, which may interest people. 

    The first from our local member, who helped push this through. He's actually a young guy (good ball player, A level pitcher, I believe) who's a veteran of Seattle and all that, where he cut his teeth. Here's his write-up.

    And the official press release from the Province. 

    This is fabulous.  Hope it spreads.  And thanks for sharing.

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