Energy efficiency is an essential part of the solution for the 20% of Canadian households now living in energy poverty—but the country’s major news outlets have yet to factor that reality into their coverage, Efficiency Canada argues in a recent blog post.
Energy poverty in Canada is typically defined as a family needing to spend 6% of its household income on energy, excluding transportation, a figure that is twice the national average, writes policy analyst Madeleine Chauvin. By that measure, roughly one-fifth of Canadian households are currently energy poor.
Anxious to “better understand the energy poverty conversation in Canada,” Chauvin recently conducted a thematic analysis of how the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Vancouver Sun, the Toronto Star, and the Halifax Chronicle Herald discussed energy poverty between 2006 and 2020.
Analyzing 86 articles, Chauvin found that roughly 44% “identified energy price increases as the main cause of energy poverty, with renewable energy (22%) and carbon pricing (25%) identified as the main causes.”
Notably, she found this narrative across the political spectrum, put forward in the Toronto Star and the National Post as reasons not to pursue renewable energy projects.
Largely absent from the stories was any commentary on what experts actually identifies as the factors saddling households with high energy burdens: energy inefficiency, and lack of access to the grid.
And rather than offering actual solutions to the problem of energy poverty, “such as efficiency programs, income supports, or emergency debt relief” (all “prominently discussed in the academic and public policy literature,” says Chauvin), the articles merely recommended cancelling renewable energy or carbon pricing initiatives.
“It was more common for regional papers to provide concrete solutions to energy poverty,” Chauvin writes, citing the Chronicle Herald as the paper that did the best job of presenting those ideas to its readers.
Citing Efficiency Canada’s own provincial scorecard, she adds that Nova Scotia “has some of the highest low-income program spending per household.”
To fill in the gap in the energy efficiency narrative, Chauvin stresses “the importance of regional newspapers expanding awareness of services available in local jurisdictions.” That, of course, means such services need to be well in place.
Observing that Canada “is likely to embark on a new debate about carbon pricing, with a new climate plan raising the price to C$170 per tonne,” she adds that “the federal government would be wise to prioritize funding a robust and well-designed low-income energy efficiency program” as part of a strategy to reduce energy poverty. Other components could include “sustainable energy strategies for off-grid communities, reducing income inequality, increasing affordable housing, and helping consumers manage high debt levels.”