The 2008 provincial budget will be a crucial test on whether or not Premier Gordon Campbell is serious about going green. The B.C. Liberal government has already challenged British Columbians to make recommendations on how next year's budget bill could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and protect the environment.
Earlier this year, the finance ministry released a paper entitled "What Choices Would You Make for a Greener Future?". This document was the basis for the provincewide public consultations held in September and October by the legislative committee on finance and government services. The all-party committee is set to present its report today (November 15) on the suggestions they have received.
Realtors and home builders have responded to the government's challenge. In a joint paper submitted to the committee on October 11 entitled "Recommendations for using the provincial tax system to encourage sustainable communities", the British Columbia Real Estate Association, Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, and the Canadian Home Builders' Association of British Columbia jointly proposed a tax-rebate program. The three associations claimed that this would encourage British Columbians to buy energy-efficient homes and buildings, thereby reducing greenhouse-gas emissions over the long term.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight , Harriet Permut, manager for government relations of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, noted that it costs more to build green homes compared to less energy-efficient residences that comply with the current building code.
"If we make the market more attractive, more people will buy them, and certainly more people will build them," Permut said. "That's the point–trying to get people to build greener homes."
According to the paper submitted by realtors and home builders, about 11 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions can be attributed to the operation and maintenance of both residential and commercial buildings. The document also stated that 15 percent of emissions are caused by construction and industrial operations, and another eight percent comes from construction waste.
As outlined in the paper, the finance ministry could reinvest revenues from the property-transfer tax to provide a range of PTT rebates to buyers of homes that meet or exceed the standards set by the Canadian Home Builders' Association's "Built Green" program. For example, home buyers who purchase houses that meet the gold-level standard would receive a $5,000 rebate.
A single home that meets the gold standard would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 2.5 tonnes annually, according to the paper. It also recommended a provincial-sales-tax rebate on green products for homeowners who renovate to meet the standards of Natural Resources Canada's ecoENERGY retrofit program. These products include energy-efficient appliances, heating equipment, cooling and ventilation equipment, windows, doors and skylights, lighting, and landscaping.
Buyers of commercial buildings that meet or exceed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green-building certification system should also qualify for a range of PTT rebates, the paper suggested. The realtors and home builders also recommended granting PST rebates to those who renovate existing commercial buildings to LEED standards.
Some 36,443 homes were built in B.C. last year, and only 400–or about one percent–met the Built Green home standard. According to the paper's calculations, if five percent of homes put up last year–or about 1,820 units–received a Built Green gold standard rebate of $5,000 each, this would have cost the government only $9.1 million. With the huge surpluses being generated by the province, the home-builders' association argues that this is certainly affordable, and the benefits are enormous. The document noted that this same number of green homes would prevent 4,550 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions from entering the atmosphere per year.
Permut said that there is a market for green homes that's just waiting to be tapped through financial incentives from the government. "People want to save energy," she said. "It's the right thing to do so I would think that [incentives] gets them started on that road."
About 1,200 Built Green homes are expected to be put up in the province this year.