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‘We need to get off oil and gas’: Pictou County launches program to help residents install solar panels and heat pumps

‘We need to get off oil and gas’: Pictou County launches program to help residents install solar panels and heat pumps

Angela Capobianco · Multimedia Journalist | Posted: a day ago | Updated: a day ago | 5 Min Read

Zoe Cromwell, the energy concierge manager for SwitchPACE, presented during the Nov. 16 information session of Switch MOPC at the Pictou County Wellness Centre. Angela Capobianco

NEW GLASGOW, N.S. — The Municipality of Pictou County (MOPC) is looking to help support people’s transition towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels.

At the second information session of Switch MOPC hosted at the Pictou County Wellness Centre on Nov. 16, a small crowd turned out to learn about the launching of the new program.

“We’re acting as the bank,” said MOPC Warden Robert Parker during the session introductions. “We’re also looking at climate change and trying to do the right thing by reducing greenhouse gases. I don’t understand too much of that stuff, but I know we need to get off oil and gas.”

What is Switch MOPC?

Switch MOPC is a program to help homeowners within MOPC who are current on their property taxes invest in renewables, such as installing solar panels on their homes. There are plans to include heat pumps and other efficiency measures such as insulation and efficient windows and doors. These will come in December following the PACE by-law amendment at MOPC Council.

MOPC is working with SwitchPACE, a Halifax-based organization that works with municipalities and communities to help them switch from carbon-based heating and electricity to a more renewable system. Through Switch MOPC, the municipality will offer a loan to homeowners who can get support and resources through SwitchPACE.

“Most of the upfront money is coming from the company (SwitchPACE), and that allows us to do a whole lot more than we could (by ourselves). Hopefully, it will catch on, and people will make use of it, and we’ll have a lot more people with heat pumps or solar panels,” Parker said.

Zoe Cromwell speaks on behalf of Switch MOPC during a session held at the Municipality of Pictou County Administrative Building on Oct. 24. Contributed

Transition assistance

Zoë Cromwell, the energy concierge manager of SwitchPACE, led the presentation to the handful of residents who attended the information session. She highlighted that SwitchPACE will guide those looking to transition towards renewables by providing access to reliable contractors and guidance on good options depending on the home.

“We provide assistance with the whole retrofit process, as well as ensuring that you’re eligible to receive the rebates for the projects you’re doing,” Cromwell said. “We’re your guide throughout the entire retrofit process.”

Cromwell added that with insulation, a heat pump and solar put into a home, it’s estimated that the homeowner will save about 60 per cent in energy costs with about 60 per cent of their greenhouse gas emissions reduced.

Rebates and protections

The program will also help homeowners access provincial or federal rebates and allow them to apply for the federal government’s Canada Greener Homes Loan, which has zero per cent interest compared to the municipality’s 8.75 per cent interest.

The tradeoff is the federal government’s loan can take a year to be processed. As a result, Switch MOPC can work as an intermediary, offering the loan immediately, which would then be paid off to MOPC when the federal loan comes in, allowing the homeowner to make smaller interest payments and save them money.

“We believe upfront costs shouldn’t be a barrier,” she added.

Following the presentation, attendees had the opportunity to ask questions. Many of the questions raised were about cost and the protections for homeowners not to be gouged by unreliable contractors.

The President of SwitchPACE, Julian Boyle, was in attendance and answered these concerns. He explained the program has onboarded and vetted all Switch MOPC contractors. There are standards in place to ensure that contractors are reliable with SwitchPACE looking at their workers’ compensation, insurance, and track record, Boyle said.

He added he’s happy to see this program picked up by Pictou County, especially to help low to moderate income households save some cash on heating and electricity.

“I’m very proud we’re able to do this,” said Boyle. “There are many people that need help, and they should get help getting off oil and accessing heat pumps.”