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Ontario Must Turn Renewed Energy Conservation Commitment into Action: SEI Report

The Government of Ontario’s February 2013 Speech from the Throne recognized that “conservation is the cheapest source of energy available,” and stated that “Ontario will continue to be a leader in smart-grid technology and energy conservation.” In this context the York University Faculty of Environmental Studies Sustainable Energy Initiative has published the fourth paper in its Studies in Ontario Electricity Policy Paper Series paper Electricity Conservation Policy in Ontario: Assessing a System in Progress. The paper is available at

In the study, Master of Environmental Studies (MES) student Rebecca Mallinson presents a comprehensive assessment of the province’s electricity Conservation and Demand Management (CDM) policy framework, and provides a detailed roadmap for turning the province’s renewed focus on energy conservation into reality. By acting on its new commitment Ontario has the potential to strengthen the sustainability of Ontario’s electricity system and to enhance the energy productivity of Ontario’s economy.

The report analyzes Ontario’s existing policies in terms of six criteria:

  1. Treating conservation as a priority resource
  2. Making a long-term commitment to conservation
  3. Clearly and appropriately defining roles and      responsibilities
  4. Ensuring that financial and incentive structures      support policy objectives
  5. Offering a comprehensive suite of conservation      programs
  6. Adopting robust evaluation, measurement and      verification (EM&V) processes

These themes are based on characteristics of successful conservation strategies and best practices in other jurisdictions in Canada and the United states.  For each theme, the report poses and answers a series of questions that are used to assess where Ontario’s conservation policies align with best practices.  The report identifies four major problem areas with respect to electricity conservation policy in Ontario:

  1. A lack of prioritization and long-term commitment to conservation in Ontario’s
    energy planning process.
  2. Overly rigid roles for Ontario’s local electricity distribution companies in designing and delivering conservation programming.
  3. Legislation that grants authority but does not require action on conservation.
  4. A lack of attention and support for building a culture of conservation in the province.


In all, the report offers 20 recommendations for changes to conservation policy in Ontario.  Four of its key recommendations are:

1. Make the following changes to Ontario’s power system planning process:

  • Limiting the Minister of Energy’s ability to issue planning directives to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) and setting Ontario’s long-term energy policy objectives through legislation.
  • Making one of Ontario’s energy policy objectives a commitment to pursue all available cost-effective conservation opportunities before seeking new electricity generation assets to meet demand.
  • Having the Ontario Energy Board review the province’s power system plans on the basis of how they address the province’s energy policy objectives, as laid out in legislation, rather than on the basis of their compliance with ministerial planning directives.

These measures would establish conservation as a priority resource in electricity system planning, and help to provide long-term stability to the province’s electricity system planning process.

2.Allow the province’s local electricity distribution companies greater flexibility in the roles they can play in designing and delivering conservation programming.

Under Ontario’s current policies, local electricity distribution companies are all assigned the same conservation program delivery role, and are effectively prevented from designing their own conservation programs.  This approach does not recognize their differences in size and capability, and fails to exploit the experience that many distribution companies have with creating innovative programs tailored to local market conditions.

3.Modify conservation-related legislation so that it requires engagement in conservation activities rather than simply granting the power to engage in or require conservation activities.

In many instances, Ontario legislation grants the province the authority to engage in conservation activities or to require other entities to engage in conservation activities.  However, the decision about whether or not to use these powers is left to the discretion of the province.  This means that if the province elects not to exercise its conservation-related powers, then business in the province can continue as usual, without any gains in energy conservation.  Legislation should mandate action on conservation for these reasons.

4.Re-commit to building a culture of conservation in Ontario.

Building a culture of conservation means raising conservation awareness and education in Ontario to a level where Ontarians automatically consider the energy-use implications of their everyday actions and decisions.  It means convincing Ontarians – both energy consumers and energy policy players – that conservation is Ontario’s best, most cost-effective energy option.  As such, building a culture of conservation is key to maintaining sustained conservation efforts and to achieving long-term energy savings. The phasing out of the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit, which provides incentives for consumption rather than conservation, would be an important step in this regard.

The Faculty of Environmental Studies Sustainable Energy Initiative (SEI) has been
established to build and strengthen the teaching, research and partnerships
needed to create new green energy economies in Canada and around the world.

Further information on the initiative is available at