BC Hydro and FortisBC are expanding their low-income energy conservation programs to reduce the impact of rising electricity costs.
One program offers free energy saving kits, including compact fluorescent light bulbs, weatherstripping, thermometers to optimize operation of the fridge and freezer and a high-efficiency shower head. The other offers free home energy evaluations to see if they home qualifies for an energy-efficient refrigerator or extra insulation.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett said the government changed regulations to increase the low-income cutoff to qualify for the programs. A family of four earning up to $57,200 can now qualify, up from $44,000, a change Bennett said will almost double the number of households who are eligible. The threshold for a two-person household is $47,100.
Customers of the two utilities have to apply and provide proof of income to take advantage of the programs.
Bennett said last November he would seek ways to provide extra help for lower-income customers when he unveiled a new BC Hydro rate plan. That plan will see electricity rates rise by 28% over the next five years, with further increases to be determined at that time.
BC Hydro has other energy-saving incentives that are not income-tested, including a rebate program for installation of insulation, draft-proofing, heat pumps and water heaters. Those require homeowners to pay for assessment to see if they qualify for rebates.
Bennett said BC Hydro spends $160 million a year on its whole range of energy efficiency programs, including those for commercial and industrial customers.
The utility has set an "aggressive" goal to meet 78% of its demand growth through energy conservation, reducing the need to build new generating capacity, he said.