What does upgrading household insulation, appliances and plumbing have in common? Lower household carbon emissions, right? How about high costs and low accessibility? 

‘Going green’ is something that feels out of reach for many Albertans.

Richard Boyd, an energy economist worked in the United Kingdom with individuals that couldn’t afford to pay their bills, let alone make their homes more green. 

When he moved to Alberta, he found the exact same problem in the country’s energy capital; now he’s here to help.

Boyd came to Alberta in 2008, after working on the energy poverty strategy for the U.K. 

Energy poverty is “a situation where a household finds it difficult to afford a level of energy services at home where they feel comfortable or it’s not impacting their health,” says Boyd.

Boyd came to Alberta to do an analysis for the Energy Efficiency Alberta program, estimating cost and emission savings from the different provincial programs. He found that participation was exclusive to certain income groups, with very little participation from disadvantaged populations. 

Because of his experience with energy poverty in the U.K. – he knew something was missing here.

Boyd perceived Alberta to be a wealthy province, where people should be able to pay their energy bills. He was surprised when he found out that wasn’t the case, as there were no current programs in place to address this problem.

Boyd, along with Helen Corbett from the All One Sky Foundation and a group of stakeholders started with research and workshops. What was the extent of the problem in Alberta?

From there, the project kicked off in 2015 with a paper titled: Energy Poverty, an Agenda for Alberta. A paper that explains the health effects and social impacts that were the primary drivers behind the strategies placed in Europe and the U.K. 

Four years later, they are putting their proposal into action. Boyd, using inspiration from his work on energy poverty in the U.K., planned Edmonton’s first set of ‘energy cafes’ which are due to begin this month.

The café’s focus is on education and although that may not sound as sexy as Ty Pennington yelling “move that bus!” unveiling a zero-carbon footprint dwelling from the U.K. ‘s cafés scored favourably, with the average participant rating of nine out of 10 for benefits experienced since starting the program.

The programs carry little to no cost for their attendees and the lessons are personalized based on household lifestyles and resources. 

They are taught things like how to properly read their utility bills and how to save money while reducing household stress.

Between one in five to one in seven households are candidates for the program.

“Given that it’s at least 20 per cent of the population, and doing that in multiple cities – that’s where it all adds up. So each house makes a difference,” says Boyd.

Because ‘going green’ feels like a rich man’s game, many aren’t aware of the impact they can make.

“We need to make a low carbon future inclusive,” Boyd says. “You know everyone recognizes that you need to bring everybody along, you can’t leave anyone behind.”

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Editor: Sadie Johnson | sjohnson@cjournal.ca