Energy poverty (or fuel poverty) refers to individuals, households, or communities that are unable to access and afford adequate energy/fuel for basic necessities of life, such as heating and cooling (TheCanadianObservatoryonHomelessness, 2015). Most often, measurements of energy poverty are based primarily on energy used in the home. However, recent studies suggest that the cost of gasoline should be added to these estimates for a fuller understanding of how energy poverty impacts households and individuals in Canada (Green et. al). Any household spending more than 10% of their income on energy or fuel is living in energy poverty.
Energy poverty in Canada may force families to choose between buying groceries or paying rent and heating their homes (Ellery & Garces, 2011). Energy poverty also impacts the health of those living in the household—it is directly and indirectly associated with cardio-vascular and respiratory diseases, mental health, and more frequent occurrences of minor illnesses, such as colds and flus. In extreme cases, where heating is disconnected, energy poverty can lead to hypothermia and eviction (Ellery & Garces, 2011).
Low-income Canadian households—and especially single-occupant homes, homes with children or young adults, seniors, renters, and households with a female primary bill-payer—are more greatly impacted by energy poverty (Ellery & Garces, 2011). In 2013, 7.9% of households in Canada were considered energy poor based on household energy consumption alone. However, when gasoline expenses are included, this number rises to 19.4% (Ellery & Garces, 2011). In fact, between 2010 and 2013, energy prices in Canada rose, on average, by 1.31 cents per kWh—some cities experienced a raise in price as high as 4 cents; gasoline prices have risen from 1994 to 2013 by 53 cents. Such growth in the energy sector has outpaced growth in average income and is expected to continue (Ellery & Garces, 2011). Increasing energy costs suggest that there will be a corresponding rise in the prevalence of energy poverty in Canada in coming years.
In order to mitigate this increase, communities will need to take intentional action to offset the impact of high energy costs. For example, the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation (NLHC) already offers energy subsidies for qualifying households through local utility providers (TheCanadianObservatoryonHomelessness, 2015). Given that the reduction of energy poverty is tied to increased household income, regulation of energy costs, and improved energy efficiency, other measure may also be taken to assist individuals and households in managing their energy expenditures, for example, financial education and empowerment (Ellery & Garces, 2011).