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BEYOND THE LOCAL: High energy bills put some Canadians at risk of heat


New study finds many Canadian households may be struggling to pay their energy bills or limit their energy use when they need it most

This article by Runa Das, Royal Roads University and Mari Martiskainen, University of Sussex originally appeared on The Conversation and is published here with permission.

Nearly one in 10 Canadian households spends more than 10% of their income on home heating and cooling, lighting, and storing or cooking food. For these households, the high cost of energy, which includes electricity, natural gas, fuel oil and propane, leads them to ration their consumption and live in fuel poverty.

Energy, in its many forms, plays a vital role in people’s lives. It can provide entertainment, food, and the ability to work, but it also provides essential services, such as heating or air conditioning.

Extreme weather events, such as the 2021 heat dome in Western Canada, are expected to increase in frequency in the future and will amplify the need for these critical energy services. The high energy load of a household could constitute a risk for the life of all the occupants of this house.

Our research shows that some households in Canada spend up to 16% of their budget on energy, almost five times more than those who do not live in energy poverty. This strongly suggests that many households in Canada are struggling to meet their basic energy needs.

Fuel poverty impacts quality of life

Canada — unlike many other countries around the world — does not recognize energy poverty, the lack of adequate and necessary household energy services.

Living in energy poverty means, for example, being too hot or too cold at home, or being stressed by high energy bills. These can have a negative impact on health, relationships and daily life.

Energy poverty usually results from a combination of low income, high energy prices and low energy efficiency. Poorly insulated homes and inefficient appliances increase the cost of energy consumption, particularly affecting low-income people.

Housing costs also have an impact on income available for energy expenditure. Across Canada, many households are struggling to find affordable and adequate housing. And the Bank of Canada’s recent benchmark interest rate hike is the largest in more than two decades. Housing has reached a tipping point, prompting the federal government to introduce a $70 billion National Housing Strategy to reduce homelessness, remove families from housing need and invest in building new homes.

Old and inefficient housing, which has higher energy costs and reduced comfort levels, is a key area of ​​concern. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation considers housing affordable when it costs less than one-third of a household’s pre-tax income. High energy burden and housing costs can make life less affordable for Canadians.

A danger to life

More and more people are working from home since the pandemic. This has likely increased energy consumption at home, as well as the amount that households spend on energy. Some governments, including that of British Columbia, have provided some relief for electricity bills. The federal government has changed the claim amounts for home office expenses on personal income tax returns if people work more than 50% of the time from home for at least four consecutive weeks. But that may not be enough.

With rising summer temperatures and extreme weather conditions, the use of air conditioning and fans will likely increase, along with energy costs. Toronto, for example, is projected to experience almost 40 very hot days (more than 30°C) by 2050 under a climate scenario where greenhouse gas emissions decline rapidly after 2050. Windsor, Ontario, could face up to 80 very hot days by 2050. in a high-carbon scenario, four times more than the average between 1976 and 2008.

Heat-related deaths are on the rise worldwide. When temperatures reached over 40°C in many parts of British Columbia in late June 2021, 619 people died. Almost all inside, and most lacked adequate cooling systems. Many households avoid using air conditioning in very hot weather because they fear higher electricity bills, and there is a general lack of cooling infrastructure.

As Canada’s inflation rate rises to its fastest pace in 40 years and costs rise across all sectors of the economy, day-to-day living becomes less affordable. Fuel poverty is a real issue for many Canadians, and many more are likely to struggle with rising energy costs in the future.

It is essential that people can have access to energy services such as heating or air conditioning, but they must be affordable. Energy loads should be considered a key factor in Canadian energy policy, as they could be a matter of life and death.

The federal government should start by officially acknowledging the problem of fuel poverty. This has been done in the UK and has enabled the country to begin to address the challenge of fuel poverty.

Runa Das, Associate Professor, College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Royal Roads University and Mari Martiskainen, Senior Researcher, University of Sussex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.