Although some social housing tenants were alarmed by high utility bills in their low-income housing units in the Olympic Village, the company in charge of the billing system says it and property managers are showing tenants how to best to use and conserve energy.
Enerpro Energy Systems is a North Vancouver-based services company that reports on the energy consumption of the Olympic Village suites and sends a bill to those living in each unit.
Unlike traditional rental suites where utilities are often handled by the landlord, at the Olympic Village those costs are paid by the renters according to how much they use. The bills include the cost of utilities such as energy, heating, cooling and hot water per suite, as measured by in-house meters.
“The intent of the project was always to have people cross allocated for their consumption,” said Enerpro representative Nicholas Farina. “We've seen remarkable results as to how much they actually consume. We've seen anywhere between 20 to 30 per cent reduction in water consumption and 30 to 50 per cent reduction in heating.”
Rentals at the Olympic Village are managed by the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. According to COHO executive director, Thom Armstrong, Enerpro was an essential part of the sustainability model for the village.
“If you want people to conserve energy, you have to create direct links between their behaviour and the cost of their energy,” said Armstrong.
But after a slough of complaints beginning in 2011 about utility bills as high as $80 a month for tenants in low-income housing, the City of Vancouver looked into the system.
The Enerpro bills were suspended temporarily while the city produced a report. The suspension didn’t last. It was lifted following the report and the bills have been issued since.
Since then, COHO property managers have held information sessions about the Enerpro billing system and have hired a representative to meet individually with the tenants to explain how the system and building works.
Workshops were offered to teach people how to cut usage and make utilities more affordable. The representative explained to tenants the unique building design, according to Armstrong.
Farina argued that despite complaints, the cost of having Enerpro in the building is not actually higher than comparable housing and has dramatic effects on lowering consumption.
“Customers are asking for some sort of accountability for their consumption so they can have reduced costs if they use less,” he said. “If it's higher, it's because you're consuming more than your neighbour does.”
Armstrong says the response has become more positive over the months as people have learned to adapt to the system and has allowed utilities to be more affordable to those willing change their habits.
“The big factor that played into this from the beginning was a fear of the unknown,” he said. “Now that things have settled down, people are realizing the systems do work and their energy costs are lower than what other people are paying.”