Letters from 2025, Part I: Yvonne

March 16, 2021

Yvonne lives near Guelph’s Norm Jary Park. She met her husband Harry while working at the University of Guelph in the late sixties - they were in their lunchroom, each fixing a cup of Earl Grey tea, when they started chatting. Soon they were married, and bought a house together not long after - the first owners. They were living there when their first child was born, and their second, and as the two children grew up and eventually moved out, and when Harry passed away a few years back.

20210315 Yvonne and Harry do not live hereThe house is a modest side-split, with a two-car garage - or, as Yvonne jokes, “It would be a two-car garage if you have two very small cars, or if you don’t mind the occasional nasty scratch trying to squeeze the second one in.” It’s a slightly silly discussion, since no car has been in there for years. She doesn’t see herself as a hoarder, but with five decades of accumulated stuff, there’s no room for a car. She parks on the driveway.

Yvonne remarks that it would be quite a bit of house for just one person. Once the kids were settled in their own places and clearly not coming back, she and Harry had invited UofG international students to rent the extra bedrooms. Yvonne continued that tradition after Harry passed, since she didn’t relish the idea of “rattling around that big old house all by myself, like a pebble in a shoe”.

Yvonne doesn’t think of herself as well-to-do. The mortgage is paid off, and between her pension, survivor benefits, and rent from the students, she is reasonably comfortable. All the same, she worries that her income is fixed, but utility costs keep going up. When she called what was then Guelph Hydro a few years ago, they suggested she contact eMerge Guelph Sustainability about their Home Tune-Up program. On the advice of the eMerge advisor she swapped all her light bulbs for LEDs, installed low-flow shower heads, added faucet aerators, and a few other bits and bobs, and that helped a bit. All the same, she yearned to do something more to keep utility bills from taking an ever-larger bite of her budget.

She looked into a renovation, but the only way to pay for it was a home equity line of credit. She learned that most people use that financing tool to spruce up a house just before selling, and then pay it off with the proceeds. She decided it wasn’t a fit. She didn’t know how long she’d be able to stay in the house - ten years, maybe even twenty - and she didn’t like the idea of rolling the dice with interest rates. She remembered the sky-high mortgage payments of the eighties, and vowed never to land in that mess again.

She was also curious about solar. She and Harry talked about it once not long after becoming empty nesters, but back then it was laughably expensive. More recently, a salesman appeared at her door proclaiming that the house had a splendid roof for solar - southwest facing, rectangular, without much shade from trees - and told her it was now cheaper to pay off a loan for the solar than to keep buying electricity from the utility company. She was intrigued, but a bit wary of a slick pitch, and would have preferred to compare notes with someone that wasn’t out to make a sale.

One day while reading the eMerge Guelph e-newsletter, Yvonne spotted an article about something called PACE - Property-Assessed Clean Energy. She checked out the details on the Our Energy Guelph website, and was intrigued. 

Through the program, she could get the solar array, as well as better insulation and new windows and doors to make the home much more energy efficient. She could also have a heat pump installed, to do the job of her furnace and air conditioner; both were more than 20 years old, and it only just occurred to her that they might need replacing soon. The interest rate was fixed for the entire term of the financing - twenty or even twenty-five years. What’s more, if she decided to sell the house, the financing would automatically transfer to the buyer if they didn’t ask for it to be paid out. That was head and shoulders better than the line of credit.

Then came the icing on the cake: for a little extra, she could request a project manager to do all the busy work for her. She admitted that she didn’t know the first thing about hiring a contractor, and she had no idea how to tell a good insulation job from bad. The program’s “concierge” option would take care of all that for her. She was sold.

The project manager began by confirming what the solar salesman had said, and she explained to Yvonne that an energy auditor would do a brief assessment and draw up a full list of recommendations. She went over all the details with Yvonne, even helping to schedule an extended vacation, visiting first with one set of grandchildren, then the other, then getting some alone time at a resort in Arizona. When Yvonne got back, it was all done. 

There wasn’t much to see, really - the main difference was the solar panels, but they were on the back of the house and not visible from the street. The real change came a month later when the bills arrived. There were no longer any gas-burning appliances in the house, so the Enbridge bill marked the closing of her account. Her Alectra bill included a hefty credit for the electricity that the solar panels produced. There was a new bill to pay for the work on the house, but it was about the same as what she would have paid in gas and electricity - and there would be no surprise rate increases on that one.

As Yvonne sets the sheaf of bills down and sips her cup of Earl Grey, she smiles. Harry would be proud of how she’d breathed new life into their beloved home.

This is the first in a series of stories of fictitious Guelphites living four years in the future, describing what the Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program meant to them. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.