Nine of the top 10 Nova Scotia communities with the highest rates of energy poverty are in the Third. According to statistics outlined in Energy Poverty and an Equitable Transition to a Net-Zero Carbon Future in Nova Scotia, released in December by EfficiencyOne.
Province-wide, an estimated 43 percent of households were experiencing energy poverty as of early December 2023 and 89 percent of low-income Nova Scotia homeowners experience energy poverty.
According to EfficiencyOne, energy poverty occurs when an individual or household struggles to pay their energy bills while maintaining a basic quality of life.
“The effects of energy poverty vary. Some households experience significant challenges and must make tough decisions such as being able to ‘heat or eat.’ Not being able to afford energy can lead to utility disconnections; uncomfortable and unhealthy households; and sacrificing on other essential items. For many people in Nova Scotia, the cost of energy is a significant concern,” states the report.
The nine communities listed from highest to lowest rates are Eskasoni, Dominion, New Waterford, Glace Bay, Reserve Mines, Port Morien, and three areas of Sydney. The statistics were compiled using postal codes.
Energy poverty is commonly measured as spending more than a certain percentage of one’s household income on energy use. Using EfficiencyOne’s measure, those spending more than 6% household income are defined as being in energy poverty.
Energy poverty is based on three main factors: household income (or funds available), the amount of energy used, and the cost of energy.
“Higher energy costs disproportionately impact households with lower incomes. This can lead to serious challenges with some individuals and families struggling to pay their energy bills and keep food on the table,” says the report. “It can also result in unhealthy and uncomfortable living conditions leading to poorer mental and physical health, reducing the quality of life for these people. Living in energy poverty means making sacrifices and living with the ongoing burden of not being able to pay energy bills.”
Renewable energy transition costly
And the shift to a net-zero economy by 2050, a target Canada has committed to reach, means increased hardship ahead for some. Governments must significantly reduce their level of greenhouse gas emissions while also allowing for carbon offsets.
“Achieving net-zero is a decades long endeavour and requires significant investment as energy systems, buildings, transportation infrastructure, and vehicles will need to be upgraded and transformed,” states the report. “During this transition, energy prices are expected to rise as more polluting fuels are phased out and new infrastructure is built. This will have a disproportionate and, in many cases, significant impact on households experiencing energy poverty,” concludes the report.
An equitable transition to a net-zero
For EfficiencyOne, equity in relation to energy use means providing assistance to individuals and families so that people can better manage their energy bills. “This requires spending more time, effort, money, and staff resources on key groups of people and specific communities. An equitable transition to a net-zero future must incorporate equity considerations into a variety of programs and services including those that reduce energy poverty, argues the report. “To truly consider equity means to recognize that there are inequalities and disparities that already exist in housing and among different segments of the population.”
Equity-deserving groups were found to have less-efficient housing and a greater need for energy efficient upgrades. Households with someone who has a long-term disability or illness, or at least one person who is senior (age 65 or older), or those with a lone-parent or single occupant have a significantly higher chance of being in energy poverty. It is also more common for energy poverty to affect women.
Nova Scotia a leader
Despite this grim news, the report and others have recognized Nova Scotia is a leader in helping those in energy poverty. Efficiency Canada calls Nova Scotia a leader in low-income program investments.
Nova Scotia is not alone in energy poverty, others are experiencing similar statistics.
Despite being a leader, EfficiencyOne has put forward six recommendations to address energy poverty equitably.
Continue Existing Energy Efficiency Programs
Monitor and evolve new program offerings
Establish a program for moderate-income renters
Achieve deeper energy savings
Further efforts to address equity by focusing on barriers to initial participation and issues with a building
To read the full report: