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November 17, 2014 1 Comment

Would you pay for someone else’s clean energy?

SUN1013  DocksideCross posted from the Ottawa Citizen on Oct. 23, 2014.

Canada has many examples of innovative green building projects, but without your financial support, most would never have succeeded.

Some examples:


  • In the Drake Landing community in Okotoks, Alta., 52 homes are connected through underground pipes that deliver heating supplied by solar panels. A full 90 per cent of their space heating comes through clean solar energy. The community won a top award at the 2005 International Awards for Liveable Communities — a program endorsed by the United Nations — but, according to Richard Quail, the Okotoks municipal manager, the project would not have come to fruition without government funding.


  • The Dockside Green development in Victoria, B.C., is recognized as one of the world’s leading examples of sustainable development, but it, too, would never have happened without over $1.5 million in support.


  • The EQuilibrium Sustainable Housing Demonstration Initiative sponsored by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. has given funding to builders across the country to cover the design costs of building Net-Zero Energy homes. These homes act as stand-alone power stations and produce as much energy as they use over the course of a year.


Without subsidies, these projects wouldn’t happen.

The construction industry is very risk averse and will not take chances on unproven technologies. Since renewable energy technologies are in their infancy, they need the opportunity to prove themselves and develop. The technologies are currently too costly to sell on their energy-efficiency merits alone.
But there is a recognized public good in reducing energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions and a government pilot project can reduce the risk to developers and push the industry towards more innovative construction practices.

Many people don’t agree. To some, government funding into green energy distorts the free market and leads to inferior products forced on the public at higher costs.

There is a pilot project just outside of Austin, Texas, called Pecan Street that brings together government, academia and major corporations to “reinvent America’s electric system.” It’s a fascinating project that looks at every aspect of how we live and use energy. It has also become a lighting rod for criticism as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Does this outcry reflect the difference in values between Canadians and Americans? Liberals and Conservatives? In any case, it points to a critical barrier to further adoption of clean technologies.

People don’t trust the government to invest wisely and certainly don’t want them subsidizing big business. There are many competing uses for taxpayer dollars, from arts grants to social services and more.

Subsidies for green building projects leverage the investment and pave the way for a transition to a cleaner energy future. So should our tax dollars pay for someone else’s clean energy?

If we are serious about tackling the issue of climate change, or even are just concerned with lowering our future household energy bills, then these are the types of investments that our government should be making. Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions benefit everybody, regardless of where they occur.

It’s an ancient problem — how do you protect something that nobody owns, but everybody needs? The government has a responsibility to show leadership and create a shared vision for how we will produce and use energy in the future.

Posted by Matthew

One Response to "Would you pay for someone else’s clean energy?"

  1. Gary Martin says:

    Great topic and great questions. Your last comment is bang on, Matthew. The Canadian government does fund technical research, but our challenges are not technical here. We have lots of wonderful building technology but we don’t use it. One reason is that energy is too cheap here. You allude to the other, which is that there is no national, science-based discourse on climate change in Canada. Without that leadership, Canadian consumers will continue to choose granite countertops over energy upgrades by a wide margin. I couldn’t agree more: it’s time for a fact-based shared vision and, I think, regulatory change to match!


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Matthew Sachs


  • COO of Peak Power since July 2016
  • General Manager of Urbandale Construction (May 2008 – Oct 2014)
  • Vice-Chair R-2000 Renewal Committee
  • Member of Energy Star Technical Advisory Committee
  • Greater Ottawa Homebuilders Green Committee
  • Recipient of Canadian Homebuilder’s Association 2009 R-2000 Builder of the Year Award
  • Participant in Natural Resources Canada’s Technology Roadmap for Sustainable Housing
  • Energy Consultant with Marbek Resource Consultants (Feb 2002 – May 2006)


Peak Power is a Microgrid project development company focused on delivering innovative solutions to offset the most expensive hours of electric demand. We specialize in optimizing the revenue streams from energy storage, advanced building automation, and renewable technologies for customer sited and utility scale projects. Please visit