In the Town of Bridgewater, 38% of families struggle to afford home energy bills. Seniors, equity-seeking groups, and single parent families are particularly at risk. In order to afford a basic necessity – such as heat – many forgo other essentials, including food, medication, and transportation.
The housing stock in Bridgewater is old and energy inefficient, meaning that many people pay much more than they should to keep their homes comfortable. But the impact extends beyond comfort – energy poverty affects all aspects of life, from education to mental wellbeing. The documentary below captures the very real experiences of Bridgewater residents that are struggling to afford their rising energy bills.
So what is the solution?
Upgrade homes to become more energy efficient, reduce energy bills, keep more money in the pockets of Bridgewater Residents, and create a positive environmental outcome in the process.
Recognizing the needs of their residents, the Town of Bridgewater launched Energize Bridgewater, an ambitious initiative designed to make energy more affordable, accessible, and sustainable. The program has set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 2011 levels by 2050 and lift as many as 350 local families out of energy poverty by 2026.
In order to realize these targets, the Town and residents need access to low cost capital to upgrade homes and develop renewable energy projects. The Town has made enormous headway with the launch of their Clean Energy Financing program, which allows residents to access low interest capital of up to $40,000 to retrofit their homes. Upgrades can vary greatly depending on the needs of the home, from the installation of a heat pump, to adding more and better insulation, to installing new windows or solar panels. Under the Town’s expanding program, residents are now supported by a Navigator, who helps them assess their energy efficiency upgrade needs and access all provincial and federal energy efficiency grants to bundle with their financing.
For the past several years, the municipality has also been exploring the potential for a solar or wind community energy project. The Energize Bridgewater team has investigated innovative models from across Canada and conducted a resource study to identify municipally owned or influenced parcels of land that could be feasible sites. Through this research, one element emerged as critical – community participation.
Bridgewater saw the opportunity to engage community members in the energy transition by allowing them to become investors in sustainable energy projects. This would not only unlock additional capital, but contribute to community economic development and community support for the projects.
The Town brought on Tapestry to explore how this could be done, and to design an investment system that could unlock the capital required to meet their long term sustainable energy targets.
The design of the system was multipronged, involving engagement with a diverse array of stakeholders, system mapping, and financial modeling. Central to the investment system is an investment vehicle called a Community Economic Development Investment Fund (CEDIF), a model unique to Eastern Canada, which allows community members to invest in community-based initiatives, make a fair return on their investment, and get tax benefits.
Tapestry also developed an excel-based tool to support the Town’s decision making process to move forward with the implementation of the investment system. This tool allows the user to test out the financial conditions of the three main components of the system – the community energy project, the community-wide home energy efficiency retrofits, and the CEDIF. The tool enables the user to test a wide array of variables, including the number of households to be retrofitted, the power production and export rate for a community energy project, and loan and return rates, among others. The tool then collects key outputs of the system into a consolidated results and analysis page, for an at-a-glance summary.
Below are some of the key takeaways from our work with the Town of Bridgewater:
There is immense potential for impact investment into energy efficiency and community energy projects. Investors are eager to make value aligned investments, but their decision to do so hinges on a sound business model.
Energy efficiency retrofits can offer attractive returns to investors but logistical challenges remain, such as portfolio assembly, repayment, and risk around timing and delivery of retrofits. This is why the majority of impact investment in energy efficiency has been directed to large scale commercial upgrades. Energize Bridgewater is in an advantageous position having already addressed many of these challenges for investors.
The business model for small-scale solar PV and wind energy projects remains challenging in Nova Scotia, and Canada at large without government support in the form of grants and/or subsidies. The attractiveness of the investment opportunity may change drastically with changes in legislation. For example, the new Community Solar Program, expected to be launched by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resource and Renewable in Spring 2024, would likely make a small scale community solar project financially viable and attractive to investors.
CEDIFs are an incredible vehicle to mobilize community investment into meaningful community-based projects. Tax advantages to investors mean that lead times are short and capital can be accessed with relative ease. However, hurdles exist around what CEDIFs can and cannot invest in. For example, CEDIFs can only invest in for-profit entities, precluding non-profits (which may arguably create greater community impact) from accessing CEDIF financing.
Municipalities have a key role to play in navigating the energy transition. Through their work to design and launch Energize Bridgewater, the Town of Bridgewater has gained a reputation as a progressive, forward-thinking, and environmentally conscious Town. Their model is replicable and they are now leading the way for other municipalities across Canada that are trying to tackle climate change and energy poverty.
Photo credit: Town of Bridgewater