Alberta energy rebate program slow to bring discount promises to light

Adventure Warehouse and Ultimate Lights manager Cory Tretiak holds a 150-watt LED high bay light with prismatic reflector in Airdrie.

A government program to encourage Alberta businesses, non-profits and institutions to replace energy inefficient lights and heating has brought some suppliers’ sales to a standstill.

Most customers wanting to replace lights or controls are seeking pre-approval before buying to ensure they qualify for government rebates, Cory Tretiak, general manager of Adventure Warehouse and Ultimate Lights in Airdrie, said Thursday.

At first, he was excited about the program, thinking it would be good for business.

On behalf of clients who want to buy LED lights, he’s sent 135 rebate applications to the province’s Business, Non-profit, and Institutional Energy Savings Program since it began accepting applications in mid-May. Not one has yet been approved.

“I’m not impressed,” said Tretiak, who said his light sales have all but stopped while the applications sit in red tape.

Customers don’t want to buy the lights without prior assurance they qualify for the government rebate, he said.

Although he wants to have faith in the program, he’s frustrated.

Dan Kutcher, who owns Advantek Lighting in Red Deer, said he’s hoped for years the Alberta government would introduce a rebate program for commercial lights.

He estimated about 90 per cent of clients have applied for pre-approval. He knows of none that has been approved, which is affecting his sales.

The program would have been more successful if launched when the economy was still hot, he said.

“Although it would be easy for me to get negative about the program, we are trying to stay optimistic that once it gets rolling, the wait times will get down to the 20-day turnarounds they had projected,” Kutcher said.

On a one-year, $3.2-million contract with Energy Efficiency Alberta to run the program is Virginia-based consultancy ICF Inc.

The consultants are expected to process the rebate applications, deal with customers, advise contractors and inspect energy-efficient equipment installations, said Energy Efficiency Alberta CEO Monica Curtis.

It takes time for contractors to understand the application process for any new program, Curtis said, especially when they have to provide technical details.

ICF has staff working in Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary to help applicants, she said.

Complete applications are being processed within 20 business days, she said.

Matt Johnson (left) and Jordan Sinclair install new energy-efficient lights in a Grande Prairie arena.

Patrick Callan /

Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune

The program has received about 600 applications for rebate pre-approvals so far — mostly for replacement lights. ICF has approved about 60 rebates to date. Curtis doesn’t think the approval process is moving slowly.

“I don’t see any problem whatsoever. I think this program is very consistent with the experience of a new program in many jurisdictions, and I’ve had the opportunity in my career to start lots of new programs,” she said.

One business that skipped the pre-approval step had a smoother experience. Cheryl Handford, the office manager for Pincher Creek Meats in southern Alberta, leapt to replace money-guzzling lights in the abattoir. The new lights look great, and are supposed to save $1,200 in electricity a year, she said.

As she waits for her rebate, she acknowledged applying after-the-fact is a bit of a gamble.

“For a small business, this is a great incentive, and I think we have to try and protect the Earth as much as we can,” she said.

The $10 million available this year for commercial retrofits comes from carbon tax revenue. The program’s goal is to save 70,000 gigajoules of energy in its first year, and prevent 30,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

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