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LIEN letter to Premier McGuinty and 4 key cabinet ministers urging them to address energy poverty in Ontario

Click here to view LIEN letter in formatted version.

August 31, 2007

The Honourable Dalton McGuinty
Ontario Premier
Room 281, Main Legislative Building,
Queen's Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1

The Honourable Dwight Duncan
Minister of Energy
900 Bay Street, Hearst Block, 4th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 2E1

The Honourable Laurel Broten
Minister of the Environment
135 St. Clair Avenue West, 12th Floor
Toronto, ON M4V 1P5

The Honourable John Gerretsen
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
777 Bay Street, 17th Floor
Toronto, ON M5G 2E5

The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur
Minister of Community and Social Services
80 Grosvenor Street, Hepburn Block, 6th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 1E9

Dear Premier and Ministers,

Re: Addressing energy poverty in Ontario

I am writing on behalf of the Low-Income Energy Network (LIEN) regarding the pressing need for your government to implement a permanent energy rate affordability program and energy conservation programs for low-income residential consumers. A rate affordability program is one of the key components in the comprehensive strategy that LIEN has been recommending since 2004 to address energy poverty in our province, along with:
• targeted low-income energy conservation/efficiency programs at no-cost to participants, and with as extensive measures as practicable to provide deep reductions in energy use,
• extensive consumer education about energy conservation and available programs to support conservation activities, and
• adequately funded emergency energy assistance to help low-income households in short-term financial crisis.

We have been encouraged by the Ontario Premier's indications that tackling climate change and improving the lives of low-income people are two of his top priorities. Reducing low-income consumers' energy use not only benefits the environment, it also benefits low-income consumers, many of whom struggle to manage their energy bills and often face difficult choices such as whether to pay for electricity service or buy groceries or pay the rent.

LIEN acknowledges that some energy poverty reduction initiatives have been launched and that there has been some movement on conservation programs with pilots targeted to low-income consumers, but the progress has been painfully slow. This was made particularly evident to us with respect to the circumstances currently being investigated in the possibly heat-related deaths in early August of two Sarnia tenants who were in receipt of social assistance, one of whom reportedly could not afford the $50 monthly fee to air-condition her apartment.

We welcomed Minister John Gerretsen's quick response to this tragic event, expressed in correspondence with Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley. The Minister committed to review ways to help tenants, including both vulnerable and low-income tenants, to stay cool in the rental housing in the summer. The Minister also said he would consider changes to the Residential Tenancies Act regarding rules about landlords imposing extra charges on tenants for providing air-conditioning and electricity for air-conditioning. We look forward to the results and recommendations from that review.

The government established a "one-time" $2 million Emergency Energy Fund (EEF) in 2004 to assist low-income consumers with energy utility arrears, security deposits and reconnection costs. The Ministry of Community and Social Services subsequently was assured that the fund would be annualized at $2.1 million until 2008/09 - and there was a one-time increase in 2006/07 of the EEF to $4.2 million. However, the varying eligibility criteria, application processes and funding allocations among the municipal service managers that are the delivery agents means inequitable access for low-income households. In addition, the Emergency Energy Fund does not address the ongoing energy affordability problem facing Ontario's low-income consumers who are vulnerable to increases in shelter and utility costs.

LIEN wrote to Energy Minister Dwight Duncan on May 9, 2007, requesting that he issue a Ministerial Directive to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) to hold a generic hearing on the impact of energy prices on low-income and vulnerable consumers. At such a generic hearing, LIEN wants the OEB to consider and implement solutions that would include a low-income energy rate assistance program. We would very much appreciate a response to this request, and would be happy to meet with Ministry of Energy staff.

Low-income consumers are eager to participate in provincial efforts to reduce energy consumption. However, low-income consumers do not have the financial resources to make the investments required to produce significant energy savings. Measures such as insulating and upgrading heating equipment and other appliances are out of the financial reach of most low-income consumers. In addition to financial barriers, the majority of low-income consumers are also faced with the dilemma that they are tenants and as a result have little, if any, control over their physical home. Typically, landlords are responsible for appliances, heating equipment, fuel type and the general state of the unit.

Through the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), pilot energy conservation programs are underway to reduce energy demand and consumption in the low-income residential and social housing sectors. The OPA is currently involved in developing a Multifamily Buildings Program to be launched in 2008. LIEN has been working with the OPA on these pilot programs that we anticipate will lay the groundwork for a permanent, ongoing program that will be available and delivered in all communities across Ontario to eligible low-income households. However, funding allocations beyond 2010 for these types of programs is still to be determined.

On April 27, 2007, we met with Minister Laurel Broten's policy advisor regarding the impending Ontario climate change plan announcements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We advocated for the inclusion of funding for low-income energy conservation programs with a firm time-frame for retrofitting a targeted number of homes of Ontario's low-income households annually. Your government's climate change plan assumes that 40% of housing in the province will be retrofitted by 2020, with an average savings of 30%. Achieving this savings rate has to involve tackling a significant portion of low-income housing, generally the least energy-efficient and ripe for cost-effective reductions. These reductions in energy use/greenhouse gas emissions in the low-income residential sector will not happen without significant financial investment - yet, to date, there has not been a specific announcement related to low-income energy conservation in the climate change announcements.

A long-term, comprehensive plan does require significant government commitment and funding. However, the costs of failing to address energy poverty are serious. We will see greater depths of poverty (and the associated costs), more homeless people (and the associated costs) and more pollution (and associated costs). Now is the time for action to ensure all people have access to affordable energy and the opportunity to fully participate in the province's "Culture of Conservation".

As Ontarians go to the polls in the next provincial election, the issues of energy, poverty and health are of critical importance. We are asking for your immediate response to the issues raised in this letter with your commitments and comments. We will be sharing this letter, and your response, with our colleagues who are working on housing, environment, energy, poverty and health issues, and with others in the lead-up to the October vote. We would be pleased to meet with you to discuss this in more detail.

Yours truly,
Low-Income Energy Network

Original signed by,

Mary Todorow
Research/Policy Analyst

cc: Gerald Butts, Principal Secretary, Office of the Premier
Aaron Dobbin, Finance & Economic Policy, Policy and Research, Office of the Premier
Marion Fraser, Senior Policy Advisor (Energy) to the Minister of Energy
Lois Corbett, Senior Policy Advisor (Air) to the Minister of the Environment
Mark Mascarenhas, Special Policy Advisor (Housing and Infrastructure) to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Gurpreet Malhotra, Senior Advisor to the Minister of Community and Social Services

LIEN Currents, August/September 2007 issue

August/September 2007 issue

LIEN Currents, June/July 2007 issue

June/July 2007 issue

Legal appeal of Ontario Energy Board decision on low-income energy consumers

(Toronto) - Today, the Low-Income Energy Network (LIEN) announced it will not be giving up the fight for fair energy prices for low-income consumers in Ontario, despite a recent decision by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) that thwarted the group's efforts. LIEN served notice of its appeal to Divisional Court of the Ontario Energy Board's (OEB) decision issued April 26, 2007 that it does not have the jurisdiction to implement rate affordability programs for low-income residential consumers. There was a very strong dissenting decision in this matter by Gordon Kaiser, Chair of the three-member Board panel, who found that the OEB does have the "jurisdiction to approve special rates for low-income consumers in appropriate cases."

"If LIEN does not appeal this decision, the OEB will continue to fix rates without assessing whether they are affordable to low-income consumers," says Paul Manning, a lawyer with Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP who argued LIEN's case for a rate affordability program at the Board.

"We need a permanent rate assistance program in place for Ontario's low-income consumers who are vulnerable to increases in shelter and utility costs and may be forced to make difficult choices between heating, eating and paying for their housing," says Mary Truemner, a member of the LIEN steering committee and Staff Lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO).

LIEN has also asked Ontario's Energy Minister to issue a directive to the OEB to hold a generic hearing on the impact of energy prices on low-income and vulnerable consumers. LIEN wants the OEB at such a generic hearing to consider and implement solutions including low-income rate assistance. The Quebec government issued a similar directive in August 2006 to the Régie de l'énergie (Quebec's OEB equivalent).
For more information:

Mary Truemner, Staff Lawyer, ACTO
416-597-5855 x 5163

LIEN Annual Conference 2007 - Hamilton

"Cool Ideas, Hot Solutions: Working Together to End Energy Poverty"

The 2007 Low-Income Energy Network (LIEN) Conference

Co-hosted by McQuesten Legal & Community Services,  Hamilton Mountain Legal & Community Services, and Dundurn Community Legal Services

Wednesday, June 20thth, 9:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
McMaster University Downtown Campus for Continuing Education,
50 Main Street East, 2nd floor

The McMaster Downtown Campus is located two short blocks from the downtown Hamilton GO Station:

In keeping with the theme of the conference, if feasible, organizers would encourage the use of public transit or car pooling.  A GO bus/train schedule is available at

There are several paid public parking lots also close by the Downtown Campus.

A gathering for anti-poverty, affordable housing and environmental advocates to share experiences and engage in an action agenda on low-income energy issues such as:
* Rising energy prices and rate affordability
* Reducing bills and pollution through energy conservation programs for low-income consumers
* Getting to a comprehensive province-wide low-income energy consumers' strategy
* Getting energy poverty on the public agenda - political and media strategies

Who should attend?
Anyone interested in low-income energy issues, or who wants to get involved. No special expertise required - bring your questions and your experiences to share with others.

Why you should attend:
It's free! And you will leave the conference with new connections, resources, and knowledge - ready to successfully take on the challenges in your own community.

Who/What is the Low-Income Energy Network?
The Low-Income Energy Network (LIEN) is a network of community organizations that was formed to raise awareness of implications for low-income households of increases in energy prices and to propose solutions. LIEN aims to ensure universal access to adequate energy as a basic necessity, while minimizing the impacts on health and on the local and global environment of meeting the essential energy and conservation needs of all Ontarians. LIEN promotes programs and policies which tackle the problems of energy poverty and homelessness, reduce Ontario's contribution to smog and climate change, and promote a healthy economy through the more efficient use of energy, a transition to renewable sources of energy, education and consumer protection.

LIEN currently has over 60 member organizations and a steering committee made up of representatives from:
*         Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO)
*         Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA)
*         Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC)
*         Share the Warmth (STW)
*         Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC)
*         Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA)

Please register by Friday, June 15, 2007. Click on this link for the Registration Form.

There is no registration fee for this conference and lunch will be provided, but we ask that you register as soon as possible so that we can order the food. We regret that LIEN cannot provide travel subsidies.

For background information and copies of presentations made at the conference, please refer to the documents posted below.


Conference kit

LIEN 2-pager
Lobby kit
List of energy assistance programs
List of energy efficiency/conservation programs
Who does what on energy policy in Ontario
Acronym list
Evaluation form


The face of energy poverty in Hamilton - Tom Cooper (McQuesten Legal & Community Services)

Navigating through programs & services for low-income consumers in Ontario: a guided tour through the patchwork - Sarah Blackstock (Income Security Advocacy Centre)

Key actions needed to address energy poverty: energy conservation and rate assistance - Jordan Fysh (Green Venture), and Mary Truemner (Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario) & Mary Todorow (Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario)

Ontario Energy Board claims no jurisdiction to create a rate class for low-income consumers

(Toronto) - The Ontario Energy Board released a decision yesterday in which the majority of the Board decided they have no jurisdiction to establish a rate group for low-income consumers.

In its submissions, LIEN had argued "Unaffordable gas and electricity rates cause great hardship to poor consumers in Ontario. Sometimes they are forced to choose between heating or eating."

"We are extremely disappointed that the majority decision sidestepped the opportunity to establish protections for low-income people," says Mary Truemner, a member of the LIEN steering committee and Staff Lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO). "We were heartened that Gordon Kaiser, a Vice-Chair of the Ontario Energy Board, provided a dissenting opinion to the contrary."

In his dissenting decision, Mr. Kaiser argued, "I believe the Act gives the Ontario Energy Board broad powers and discretion to consider issues of public policy and the necessary jurisdiction to enact low-income rates." Mr. Kaiser continued, "Put simply, just and reasonable rates do not result from the application of a purely mechanical process of rate review and design. A Board can, and should, take into account a variety of considerations beyond costs in determining rates."

The Low-Income Energy Network is considering its legal options.

For more information:

Mary Truemner, Staff Lawyer, ACTO 416-597-5855 x 5163

LIEN Currents, April/May 2007 issue

April/May 2007 issue

LIEN Currents, February/March 2007 issue

February/March 2007 issue

LIEN Currents, December/January 2007 issue

December/January 2007 issue

New energy conservation pilot program good news for 2,500 low-income homeowner and renter households, lays groundwork for a province-wide program

(Toronto) The Low Income Energy Network (LIEN) has been looking forward to the expansion of the OPA's low-income conservation programs beyond the social housing sector and welcomed today's launch by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA)/Conservation Bureau of its low-income Energy Efficiency Assistance for Housing pilot program. Under the pilot, a package of energy conservation and efficiency measures designed to reduce electricity consumption will be provided to up to 2,500 low-income households in the homes they own or rent. Community and Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur and Peter Love, the province's Chief Energy Conservation Officer, made the announcement today at Vanier Community Services Centre in Ottawa.

"Low-income consumers are hit hardest by rising energy costs, and they are the least able to make up-front investments in energy efficiency retrofits to their homes or to pay for the replacement of energy inefficient appliances such as refrigerators," said Sarah Blackstock, research/policy analyst with the Income Security Advocacy Centre. "We're pleased that this pilot contains the type of extended conservation measures LIEN has been recommending to make a real impact on lowering electricity bills for vulnerable households that struggle to meet the costs of basic necessities."

Only one electricity local distribution company (LDC) in the province has offered a similar program for about 100 low-income households (homeowners and renters) as part of their Conservation & Demand Management Plan, and there is no longer a federally-funded national low-income energy efficiency program in place that could be accessed by Ontarians in need. LIEN anticipates that the OPA's pilot will lay the groundwork for a permanent, ongoing program that will be available and delivered in all communities across the province to eligible low-income households.

"Inability to pay for energy costs is a leading cause of homelessness in Ontario," said Michael Shapcott, a public policy Fellow in Residence with The Wellesley Institute and a member of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee. "In hand with aggressive energy conservation and education programs to address the disproportionate impact of utility costs on low-income households, LIEN is also recommending the implementation of our proposal for an Ontario Home Energy Affordability Program under which low-income consumers would not pay more than 6% of their total household income on energy." LIEN will continue to monitor and participate in development of low-income energy conservation programs assisting Ontario's vulnerable energy consumers to ensure that they are not left on the sidelines as Ontario develops a robust conservation culture.

News Categories

Low-Income Energy Network (LIEN)
c/o Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO)
1500 - 55 University Avenue
Toronto, Ontario, M5J 2H7
Phone: 416-597-5855 ext. 5167
Toll-free: 1-866-245-4182 ext. 5167
Fax: 416-597-5821