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Burlington to offer interest-free loans to 20 residents for heat pumps

Retrofit pilot program supports homeowners looking to reduce their carbon footprint
Burlington City Hall.

Residents looking to reduce their carbon footprint can now apply for an interest-free loan to install an air-source heat pump.

Burlington council approved the Home Energy Retrofit Program that will allow 20 residents to access a loan to switch their homes to the decades-old technology.

The devices run on electricity and transfer heat from a cool space to a warm space; their benefits include reducing the burning of fossil fuels and improving air quality, including indoor air quality, to support healthy living.

Speaking on behalf of The Atmospheric Fund a regional climate agency working on climate solutions, Amanda Burns told council at the June 13 meeting that she is happy the city is moving forward with the program to promote the use of air-source heat pumps in the residential sector.

“To transition away from the burning of fossil fuels results in reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “Buildings account for 54 per cent of carbon emissions in Halton Region and the use of natural gas in Burlington represents about half of all GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions across the community.

“It’s vital to ensure that residents are supported in retrofitting and decarbonizing their homes.”

Her one recommendation to make the pilot program successful was to provide a zero per cent interest loan to ensure uptake.

“We want to incentivize people to participate and demonstrate the benefits of the program,” she said, adding the city’s program is similar to Toronto’s home energy program. Peel Region is also planning to provide a similar program to residents.

In Burlington, homeowners can adopt specific measures to support switching from the use of fossil fuels for heating and cooling of homes, through the use of air source heat pumps and air sealing. Up to $10,000 as an interest-bearing loan would also be made available to homeowners to help them make the switch under the Local Improvement Loan program requirements, to be paid back via their property tax bill.

The program will also help Burlington achieve council's target to become a net carbon neutral community by 2050 under the Climate Action Plan.

The program focuses on supporting homeowners who want to switch from burning fossil fuels for heat. It will also boost the local economy, supporting the need for home energy auditors and contractors. As well, supporting electric mobility options not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions in the community but also has the co-benefit of improving local air quality.

A new one-year contract staff position would also be created to provide guidance to homeowners via a virtual deliver centre on how to reduce their carbon footprint, financing options available (including external grant and loan programs) and review and administer the loan process. 

City staff recommended targeting support for 20 homes in the first year of the program.

For more information, go to Home Energy Efficiency Retrofits.

Staff had presented a report on Better Homes Burlington at council’s Environment, Infrastructure and Community Services Committee meeting June 1. There was discussion around providing an interest-free loan; however, council heard there would be little impact to the overall budget.

Ward 6 councillor Angelo Bentivegna, who was the only councillor to vote against the program, had concerns about managing the demand for the program down the road, when more people want to take advantage of the loan offer.

“I don’t see the plan; the homework I’ve done…there are many opportunities for residents to find subsidies and grants through private, soon to be provincial and federal. There are many options and I’m not sure that we should be in this game.”

Ward 3 councillor Rory Nisan said he prefers an interest-free loan model. “The city would only be forgoing about $15,200 of interest, but the money is staying in Burlington. To deliver the program, the money is coming from taxpayers and back to taxpayers so to me there’s not a lot of risk there.

“If we go with zero we will maximize the uptake of the program and I think that’s the best way we ensure we go through the paces, to see what the uptake is,” he added. “We want to have good uptake to make this a success. It may not be that much; we don't know how much uptake we will have. We’ve already invested in a full-time staff to look after it.”

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward said the loss of the interest income is a small price to pay to meet the city’s climate change targets.

“The $15,000 is a small price to pay as our investment potentially in doing everything we can to meet our climate change initiatives," she said, noting that the city-owned vehicles and building generate 10 per cent of GHG emissions while the private-sector make up the rest. "I heard a lot from the community about what are you doing to reduce the other 90?

"We had limited tools, clearly, because we can’t force or tell people what to do,” she continued. “The carrot approach, which is what I see this as, is one of our best tools; I’m okay with interest-free now and in the future. The dollars are so low. We’re not issuing debt for this. We've already made the decision to fund this and so let’s fund that.”

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Julie Slack

About the Author: Julie Slack

Julie Slack is a Halton resident who has been working as a community journalist for more than 25 years
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