Energy conservation is the cheapest and easiest way to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Research shows that reducing energy use creates jobs, increases our GDP, lowers government deficits, and cuts carbon pollution. It’s for these reasons that the Ontario government adopted the principle of “Conservation First” in its recent Long Term Energy Plan. The government rightly sees that increased conservation is a win for everyone.

Unfortunately, as our new study shows, the push for conservation may fail somewhere between vision and implementation.

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB), the organization that oversees the natural gas companies – Enbridge and Union Gas –  was directed by the Minister of Energy to develop new rules (called a “framework”) to enable “all cost-effective conservation.”  Essentially this means creating a system to fund conservation programs in all cases where the costs of a new purchase, such as a furnace, are more than offset by the energy cost savings resulting from the purchase.

But the OEB appears prepared to all but ignore the Minister’s directive.

In the draft framework, they have floated a proposal with such a low level of ambition that, instead of ramping up conservation efforts, the OEB would set targets that are actually lower than the energy savings being achieved today.

Failing to truly enable gas conservation will mean higher bills for all of us – for our homes, businesses, factories. And it will mean that Ontario will have great difficulty meeting our climate change targets, even as the government has recently committed to developing a strategy to meet those targets.

This would be a huge lost opportunity. In the words of the International Energy Agency, “Energy efficiency is widely recognized as a key option in the hands of policy makers but current efforts fall well short of tapping its full economic potential.”

Ontario has committed to do just this – tap conservation’s full economic potential. We should be following the lead of states like Massachusetts and Vermont, two jurisdictions with a similar climate to Ontario, both of which have committed to developing  programs to support conservation. Both these states have targets and budgets far above those contemplated by the OEB. Or we should follow the lead of President Obama, who has committed to doubling the energy efficiency of the U.S. economy by 2030.

There is really no good reason why we should fail to capture all the energy savings out there. Conservation enjoys broad support in Ontario. Enbridge and Union Gas are both supportive of greater energy conservation. The Canadian Manufactures and Exporters (CME), Canada’s largest trade and industry association, supports more conservation. In its submission to the OEB, CME said it was a “strong proponent of conservation.” Environmental Defence and other environmental groups also support increased conservation.

Yes, the gas distributors including Enbridge, large manufacturers, and the environmental community all agree. Conservation is common sense.

So why is the OEB set to waste this opportunity? The OEB shouldn’t be permitted to be an obstacle to savings for Ontarians or for Ontario meeting its climate change targets.

That’s why we pulled together this study, Powering up efficiency to get the conservation framework right; Will the Ontario Energy Board prevent consumers from saving money and Ontario from fighting climate change?

The study draws attention to the shortcomings of the OEB’s draft framework. And it makes  the case that for the sake of our economy and our environment, we cannot afford to miss this opportunity. In addition to the primer we and some of our colleagues also sent a letter into the OEB asking that they follow the spirit and intent of the Minister’s directive.

Ontario has committed to putting conservation first. Now we need to make sure we actually do it.