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Saltwire | Switch Wolfville to reduce emissions, help residents save on energy costs

WOLFVILLE, N.S. — A new program that is part of Wolfville’s response to the climate emergency will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions — and help keep green in the pockets of homeowners.

Wolfville Mayor Wendy Donovan said Switch is a fairly simple program for people looking to improve the energy efficiency of their home and save money over time.

“If you’re looking for some money to do that and you have equity in your property, people will be able to take out a no-interest loan against their house,” Donovan said, pointing out that homeowners would have 15 years to repay Switch loans.

Upgrades and renovations that could qualify under the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program include replacing windows or doors, or installing insulation, heat pumps or solar panels, for example.

“All of those things will benefit the homeowner and, we hope, will benefit our environment,” Donovan said.

By investing in energy efficiency upgrades through Switch, homeowners may be able to reap the benefits sooner than if they had to save the money to pay for renovations upfront or use the equity in their home to borrow from a bank. It could also help the town reach its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets sooner.

Donovan said the program is a Canada-wide initiative. It operates in partnership with PACE Atlantic Community Interest Corporation, with assistance from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Green Municipal Fund. Other communities to participate so far include Stratford and Charlottetown, P.E.I.

According to a recent news release from the FCM, the federation is providing $14.1 million for the program, $10 million for loans and $4.1 million for grants.

Managing the process

Stefan Tylak, manager of energy concierge with the Switch Wolfville program, said they manage the whole process for homeowners, from concept to completion. Homeowners tend to have questions when it comes to overcoming the high up-front cost or which rebate programs they qualify for.

“A lot of the time, people want to do energy upgrades but feel like it’s really above and beyond them because they don’t know where to start and don’t know what’s best for them and their home,” Tylak said.

He said there are a lot of options and choices out there and it’s often the case that we aren’t taught a lot about energy efficiency in general unless we pursue certain career paths.

“That’s where we come in as the specialists, to be able to assist people in deciphering the complex web that energy upgrades often are,” Tylak said.

Stefan Tylak, manager of energy concierge with the Switch Wolfville program, says they can help guide participating homeowners through the process, start to finish. - Contributed
Stefan Tylak, manager of energy concierge with the Switch Wolfville program, says they can help guide participating homeowners through the process, start to finish. – Contributed

They strongly recommend that homeowners first get a home energy assessment completed by an independent third party. The report will help inform what the specific home would benefit from in terms of efficiency upgrades.

Switch program representatives will also gather some initial information about the home and can often provide an opinion on potential courses of action based on the circumstances.

Tylak said these initial evaluations tie into accessing federal and provincial government rebate programs. They like to look at the big picture to ensure that people are eligible for as many incentives as possible.

About the program

Tylak said that when it comes to accessing financing through Switch, the simple requirements are that it’s an existing residential property in the Town of Wolfville’s boundaries and that homeowners aren’t in arrears with property taxes or municipal utility accounts. The credit is tied to the property, not the individual homeowner.

Once the homeowner knows what projects they’ll pursue, they get pricing and submit the quotes to Switch. A participation agreement is then generated for the homeowner to review and sign. The contractor is then authorized to go ahead with the subject work.

Tylak said the homeowner pays nothing upfront. While they can pay the loan back through monthly payments over up to 15 years, they can also pay it down with lump-sum payments at any time to help shorten the term.

Wolfville homeowners can finance projects costing up to $40,000 or 15 per cent of the assessed value of their homes. Upgrades covered by the Switch program are expected to generate energy savings greater than the monthly payments.

Tylak said the program helps to increase energy security, reducing reliance on imported fuels such as oil. Tylak pointed out that the Town of Wolfville is also currently working with homeowners to remove oil heat from residences within its wellfield protection zone. This is to prevent the possibility of oil spills contaminating groundwater resources.

Go online

For more information on the Town of Wolfville’s climate planning process or to connect with a Switch Wolfville program co-ordinator, visit www.wolfville.ca.