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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Power to the people : thinking (and rethinking) energy poverty in British Columbia, Canada Rezaei, Maryam


Energy poverty, or the experience of struggling to meet one’s energy needs, is increasingly the subject of attention in Canada — though no established definition for it exists and the definitions that are used often obscure its connections with the systemic processes that create it. In this dissertation, I situate energy poverty as a justice issue and operationalize various understandings of justice (distributive, procedural, recognition-based and restorative) to discuss how energy poverty may be conceptualized in the settler- colonial context of Canada, and, indeed, how different conceptualization reveal different processes of its creation, as well as different approaches to addressing it. Based on empirical work with two First Nations communities in British Columbia (Musqueam and Tsay Keh Dene), I outline the unfolding of energy poverty in BC amidst a constructed narrative of energy plenty, which aims to expand the reach of the extractive energy industry in the province. In doing so, I link specific energy planning processes that create precarious energy access, with mundane details of how energy poverty manifests itself in household practices that use energy. This linking of the experience of those who experience energy poverty and energy planning processes that create it reveals not only how industrial energy demand in BC is privileged over residential energy use broadly, but also how the energy demands of off-grid indigenous communities such as Tsay Keh are deemed ‘artificial and illegitimate in the community energy planning process. This ethnographic work (including surveys, interviews, energy mapping exercises and energy ana- lytics) is complemented with a statistical analysis of data from Statistics Canadas Survey of Household Spending. This analysis highlights patterns in energy poverty across Canada and demonstrates a gap between the experience of energy poverty and the design and targeting of the residential energy retrofit programs that aim to address it. I conclude by making a series of recommendations for those who fight for energy justice, including the development of community-based energy programming (e.g. deep retrofits and community renewable projects) and broadening the scope of energy poverty alleviation programs from a focus on low-income households to include lower-middle class households as well.

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