A blower door test helps a certified energy assessor determine how much air leaks from a home. It’s used to calculate a home’s EnerGuide rating

A blower door test helps a certified energy assessor determine how much air leaks from a home. It’s used to calculate a home’s EnerGuide rating

Okanagan homes getting put on energy diet

Utility company partnering with local governments to offer discounted energy audits that can unlock rebates for energy efficiency upgrades

It’s a strange business model: the company that sells electricity to much of the Southern Interior wants its customers to use less energy.

To trim those power bills, FortisBC is launching the Okanagan Energy Diet. Based on a pilot project in the Kootenays, it offers customers discounted energy audits of their homes that could unlock up to $6,000 in rebates for energy efficiency upgrades.

Spokesperson Nicole Bogdanovic said it makes perfect sense for FortisBC to help its customers buy less.

“It is less expensive to ask people to reduce the energy that they use than it is to continue to build more infrastructure or purchase power on the open market to meet increased demands,” she explained.

“So when people save energy, it’s actually not only good for the environment, it makes business sense as well.”

Each audit includes give-aways like outlet insulation and low-flow shower heads, and finished with recommendations for improving the home’s energy efficiency rating.

“The No. 1 thing is usually insulation. Most people don’t have well-insulated homes,” Bogdanovic said.

She noted the recommended upgrades could be eligible for rebates from FortisBC and LiveSmart B.C., and that the company can also provide financing for some customers.

The audits, valued at $350, are subsidized by FortisBC so customers pay only $60.

Local governments throughout the Okanagan and Similkameen are also being asked to contribute, which could further reduce the cost to homeowners. Local governments could also write off their contributions as carbon offsets.

Earlier this week, Penticton city council anted up $10,000 that will take $25 off the cost of audits for 400 residents.

“Here we are again spending taxpayers’ funds for people to improve their homes,” said Coun. John Vassilaki, the lone voice of protest.

But the audits and any upgrades they spur could be good for the local economy and the environment, countered Coun. Wes Hopkin.

“I think this is a great way to sort of nudge people and give them that extra reason to undertake these assessments and to start energy retrofitting their homes,” Hopkin said.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is also considering helping its residents.

Mark Pendergraft, who chairs the RDOS board, noted the district spends about $20,000 a year on such offsets to make its operations carbon neutral, as required by the B.C. government.

He said staff is now studying the feasibility of putting some of that money into the energy diet and will present options to the board at a later date.

FortisBC plans to cap at 2,000 the number of audits it offers in the Okanagan and Similkameen, Bogdanovic said, although it might reconsider if demand exceeds that limit.

People can pre-register for an audit by visiting www.fortisbc.com. Registration can also be completed at information sessions scheduled throughout the region in September.  The meeting in Penticton is set for Sept. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Lakeside Resort.

Sessions are also scheduled in Keremeos on Sept. 18, Summerland on Sept. 23, Oliver on Sept. 25, Naramata on Oct. 2 and Okanagan Falls on Oct. 8.