Three Seasons to enjoy - and bonus episodes to watch for Summer 2023
Something Different This Way Comes
Nov. 29, 2022

2.9 Do What You Can Do - solar power, heat pumps & wind

2.9 Do What You Can Do - solar power, heat pumps & wind

Learning from the pros: installing solar power and a heat pump in our home; guests Kevin Bowes of PowerTec Solar, Richard Lazlo of CutYourHomeCarbon.Com & my son Ben. Weighing pragmatic worries with energizing vision. A how-to for home & business own...

Learning from the pros: installing solar power and a heat pump in our home; guests Kevin Bowes of PowerTec Solar, Richard Lazlo of CutYourHomeCarbon.Com & my son Ben. Weighing pragmatic worries with energizing vision. A how-to for home & business owners, with a what-more-to-do for us all. And a bit of the tell-it-like-it-is blues. By Heather McLeod in Thunder Bay, Ontario

Do What You Can Do by Heather McLeod

(E - E9 - B - B9)
(E) Do what you can (E9) do. 
(B) It’s not all up to (B9) you
But if you can (E) do what you can (C#7) do what you can (F#) do
That would (B7) help to see us (E) through (C#7 - F# - B7 - E)

We got (A) trouble, we got (B) trouble
We got (A) trouble, mmm mmm (B) trouble …

We got (E) heat domes. We got (C#7) raging storms
We got (F#) wild winds. And we got (B7) fire & hail
We got (E) floods. We got (C#7) invading bugs
We got (F#7)dropping diversity dying and we got (B7) rivers in the sky

We got (A) trouble, yes we got (B) trouble
We got (A) trouble, yes we got (B) trouble

(E) Do what you can (E9) do. 
(B) It’s not all up to (B9) you
But if you can (E) do what you can (C#7) do what you can (F#) do
That would (B7) help to see us (E) through (C#7 - F# - B7 - E)

We got (A) trouble, yes we got (B) trouble
We got (A) trouble, yes we got (B) trouble

We need (E) solar, yes we need (C#7) wind
We need (F#7) thermal what we need is (B7) power, we need power
We need (E) shelter, we need (C#7) goods & services
We need (F#7) local yes we need (B7) local and
We need (E) Wild, need the wild (C#7) restored
Need the wild (F#7) workin’ cause we need nature (B7) yes we need nature 

And what (A) ever you can do, it’s welcome (B) cause most of all
We need (A) you. Whatever (B) you can do
We need (A) you. (B)

(E) Do what you can (E9) do. 
(B) It’s not all up to (B9) you
But if you can (E) do what you can (C#7) do what you can (F#) do
That would (B7) help to see us (E) through (C#7 - F# - B7 - E)


Referencing:  Viability report with maps for wind, solar and biomass energy in Thunder Bay.

Saving Usby Katherine Hayhoe


A cast in brief:

Tracing our journey to get the ball rolling on installing solar power and a heat pump to our home. 

A fight with my brother about why how we talk about the climate crisis gets one another irritated. And I conclude I do need to clarify how bad it is, how urgent. And I explain why I focus my gaze on solutions and goals rather than on what might prove the weakest link in the chains we’re leaning on, and don’t worry too much about the as yet unseen challenges between now and how. I revisit compound interest as a way of understanding how cultural norms change, closer to a saturation than any more linear progression. Wake up and reach for hope with everything you’ve got.

Let’s be clear - we need to stop using fossil fuels, and build our sustainable energy production enormously and ASAP everywhere and in all ways that we can. Wondering if we can now afford Solar (our family couldn’t last time we checked). And hoping to lead by example. Hoping for as easy a path forward as my cousin experienced last Spring in Calgary. But Thunder Bay does not have municipal services to help residents wanting to install solar. Though our city’s potential to generate solar and wind power has recently been mapped and detailed (see the link above). The first few online National Solar Panel installation companies I found don’t service Thunder Bay. Decided against the DYI options local stores support that friends that are 100% off-grid love. Then found Power-Tec Solar and spoke with Kevin Bowes - who joined the podcast.


Kevin - The more people I can chat about solar the better. PowerTec started as an electrical company in Winnipeg, moved into Solar six years ago, now spread to Saskatchewan and Northwestern Ontario. We go out for a couple of weeks at a time to do a few installs. 

Heather - how much cheaper would this be for us compared to when we last checked during the MicroFit era fourteen years ago?

Kevin - You could spend as much, but you would get more. The cost has gone down significantly even in the last six years. A basic residential system with the grants and rebates could get you a basic 5 kilowat system for $10,000 which 14 years ago would have cost north of $30,000

Heather - What are key things people weigh as they decide what solar is a fit for them?

Kevin - your roof plane, roof size, electricity consumption determines how many panels are the best fit for you. Solar is a long-term investment, a hedge against inflation that saves you money in the long term. Safe bet is in 7-10 years you’ll save as much in electricity costs as you invested in your panels. The way it works is you use the power you generate first so generating less than you use is your highest return on investment. Factor in the price of power going up faster than the efficiency of your solar panels degrade, and you have an appreciating asset that adds value to your home and saves you money on your electricity. In the US there is a lot of data about the impact of solar panels on the resale value of your house, and on average it adds 4%. 

Heather - how do these Federal grants add up and how do they work?

Kevin - go to the Greener Homes website, book an inspection. They assess the energy efficiency of your home and make suggestions to reduce your electricity consumption.  Based on how much savings your investments make, you’ll qualify for grants. Solar reduces your draw from the grid 100% so you get $1,000 for every kilowat you install up to $5,000. Plus if you do two or more of the suggested changes, you can borrow up to $40,000 through the program for 0% interest payable over a ten year term. Plus businesses can get a 30% refundable tax credit for their renewable energy project.

Heather - we fret over whether to set up Solar power as back-up power when the grid is down. How might an electrical vehicle come into this?

Kevin. People who are looking at solar are looking at electric vehicles and visa versa. The industry is moving towards letting car batteries act as back-up house power when the grid is down. Because home batteries are expensive, and the current code makes it hard to add them. Right now the Ford Lightning truck is the only vehicle with this capacity, but the hope is that this will be standard soon. You’d just need to upgrade your inverters for a couple thousand bucks.

Heather. How far behind is Thunder Bay in installing solar power?

Kevin. We are just starting to get into solar as a Nation. Compared to the US where my parents spend their winters, 14/15 homes have solar panels. Saskatchewan got into it more recently because the cost of electricity is high there and it is more Coal generated. Farms and businesses have taken it up before residential. We’re behind but we’re starting to catch up now.


Heather - Find the link to the Canada Greener Homes Grant webpage on my website. The other thing I wanted to better understand is heat pumps. And got a free consult with Richard Laszlo. 

Heather - Tell me about the heat pumps everyone already has?

Richard - a fridge has a heat pump. It cools by pumping heat out of the fridge. You hear it when the compressor kicks on. It’s circulating a fluid taking advantage of thermo dynamic principals to move heat from one place to another. An air conditioner works on the same principle - it takes heat from inside the house and pumps it outside. Heat pumps have been around a long time and they are growing more cost effective. They’re a proven commercial technology. The first time I saw heat pumps for space cooling was in the Middle East visiting there as a teenager. They’re ubiquitious in the Middle East, Europe, Asia. It’s the norm internationally. It’s the exception here in Ontario.

Heather - why are they more efficient than a furnace and air conditioner combo?

Richard - A heat pump doesn’t generate heat. A highly efficient furnace might be 95% efficient, though most are more like 85%. When you convert from one form of energy to another you lose some. A heat pump exploits a loophole where it just moves heat, doesn’t generate it, it is very efficient. In ideal conditions it can be 250-300% efficient or higher. It is concentrating thermal energy and moving it, not generating it. So it consumes 1 kw of electricity to produce 2.5 to 3 Kw of heat. So they are incredibly efficient and effective.

Heather - how effective where it is cold?

Richard - to back up, the magic of a heat pump is that it can both heat and cool. It has a reversing valve that can either take heat from the inside and move it out, or take heat from outside and  move it inside . A typical heat pump’s optimal range is 0-10 celsius. It continues to generate heat at lower temperatures but less efficiently. A bigger heat pump that uses more electricity can operate efficiently down to -15 or so. 

Heather - so a heat pump can replace my air conditioner and shorten my heating season.

Richard - Yes. Most people have a gas furnace or boiler and then an air conditioner. For those who want to electrify their home you can put in a heat pump and an air handler with back-up electric heating. But that is not best for everyone because of space, duct work or budget. So there’s hybrid heating, where you replace your air conditioner with a heat pump and keep your gas furnace for when it is really cold. Your gas furnace is a powerful machine, but when you just need to raise your home temperature by a little bit and it cycles on and off, that is very inefficient. That’s where your heat pump really impacts your carbon emissions. They work together very well. It can also increase the lifespan of your furnace because it doesn’t cycle on and off. It costs little more than replacing an air conditioner and reduces your carbon by 70-80%.

Heather - why did you ask whether we had duct work or not?

Richard - A heat pump integrates with duct work like air conditioning can. But with radiant floor heating or radiators you have two options. You can install ductless mini split heat pumps that are separate from your hydronic system with an outside heat pump typically mounted on the wall connected through black tubes to individual indoor units in your rooms. Each room can be set to whatever you want for that room, individually. The other option is an air to water heat-pump, heating the water in your rads or radiant floor, but that doesn’t provide a cooling solution. Duct-less is not inexpensive because you have two systems - heating and heat-pump. But it is very flexible and comfortable. 

Heather - do you realize cost savings?

Richard - sometimes, but sometimes you use it more. Time of use rates can be an issue during peak rate use. You have to learn to manage that.

Heather - you are seeing an uptick in interest?

Richard - a lot of people want to cut their carbon. And people are starting to see cooling as an essential rather than a luxury with the heat waves we’ve been seeing. And multi-generational family dynamics can really benefit from this more tailored thermal comfort that ductwork cannot provide.

Heather - What happens next, if this is something you decide you want to do?

Richard - You need a good heating, ventilation and air conditioning professional. There are a lot of choices, but not all HVAC contractors are familiar with heat pumps. Some may try and convince you not to install one and provide some misinformation. So choose your contractor wisely. This is one of the reasons we started this business - to help homeowners understand their options and pair them with contractors that are familiar with what they want and are located where they are. Feel free to check out our website Cut Your Home Carbon. Com or We do a free consultation. We pride ourselves on not being salesy.

Heather - how do heat pumps come into the Greener Homes Grants?

Richard - there are some incentives available right now: Greener Homes Grant and a conservation program that Enbridge runs. You need to hire an energy advisor. They do a blower door test to see how much heat your home leaks. You get a rating plus they go through your home to note other energy saving opportunities you have. They max out at about $5000 and if you do multiple measures the cost of that audit is reimbursed. Not all heat pumps are eligible for funding, those details do matter.

Incentives are great but it might not be worth chasing the inventives. They are great but start with what you want or need, rather than what gets funded. The incentive process takes half a year or more so it takes time.

The other thing you can get is up to $40,000 in 0% interest loans, which is exciting especially when you are looking to do bigger projects.

Heather - are we gearing up in Ontario?

Richard - Ontario has been a laggard, with single digit heat pumps where even in the rest of Canada: Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Quebec, BC you see a lot more. One reason is it has been cheaper to heat with gas, but that is changing. And the incentives change things. Now there is a lot more interest in customers and contractors. There’s more product choice. And there is nothing like seeing your neighbour putting in a heat pump to get everyone else interested in doing that. There is no doubt we will catch up in the years ahead.

Heather - heat pumps and geothermal. How are they related?

Richard. We’ve been talking about air source heat pumps. Its source of thermal energy is the air. Geothermal, ground source, geo-exchange all mean the same thing - the source of the heat is in the ground, or that is where you dump the heat from the house when you are cooling in the summer.

Heather - it must require more infrastructure

Richard - Yes. but because the ground temperature is so stable, it is incredibly efficient. Even in the depths of winter it can provide adequate heating, no need for a furnace. But the cost can be quite high and you need the land. You can build either a horizontal or a vertical well. It is not that easy for a lot of properties, especially in a dense urban environment.

Heather - once it is built, what are the requirements for maintenance and the durability?

RIchard - Air heat pumps last about as long as an air conditioner: 15 years or so. Geothermal more like 20-30 years. If properly installed, make sure you deal with a top contractor, don’t chase the lowest price, go with qualify.

Heather - And maintenance?

Richard - everybody should get a twice yearly check up on your HVAC, not just if you have a heat pump - do it for your furnace too. I do it in fall and Spring. Ideally work with the pro who installed your system because they’ll know what they’re dealing with. Make sure to replace your filters. Don’t obstruct your devices. Keep them clean. And they’ll last for years.




There you go, hot off the presses, not quite polished yet but that is

Do What You Can Dofor this week’s edition of Something Different This Way Comes


 And do what you can do when you own  your property - a house or a business that qualifies for rebates right now - that’s great. But there’s more than that that we can do. There’s bottlenecks we can get through. Improvements we can suggest. Hats we can put on: not just owner but customer, client, employee, neighbour, citizen.


Our little hill top here is sunny but also windy. I see so much more wind power outside Thunder Bay than I’ve seen here, and you hear so much about wind - so many communities & countries commiting to generating wind power. And we are a windy place. So I put my journalist hat on to see why not. I even tried to track down people behind Dorion wind farm that went up when the Microfit program was roaring. I found a little information, but I got discouraged because it feels to me that we could be doing more. We put bottlenecks in place that are overdue to be removed or at least revisited. And Ben feels the same way. So I invited him on mic.


Heather: what do you know and like about windmills?

Ben: They are a nice renewable energy source if you have the space. A lot of bang for your buck. There’s a whole bunch of different styles out there for whatever you need. 

Heather: If we could put one up here what would you put up?

Ben: Vertical shaft because they don’t take up much space. Although they don’t provide much energy. If we had one of those huge ones we’d have to share our energy with our neighbours because we’d produce so much.

Heather: Which is also a problem right now in Ontario because when individuals generate more energy than they personally need, they don’t get paid for it. There is a discouragement from generating more power than you personally need in your home. Where have you seen a vertical shaft windmill?

Ben: At the College - it’s pretty cool

Heather: There are a bunch of restrictions in Ontario that don’t apply in other provinces. Like off shore wind farms are banned in Ontario. We’re also banned from having windmills less than 300 metres from any shore. That really limits where we can build. You can’t build a windmill less than 1.5 km from where any human being might be able to hear. How do you feel when I list these off?

Ben: It feels like somebody was given the ability to make rules and has not researched their topic enough. There have been some videos like of blades tearing off a windmill during a hurricane in the US and sometimes people use stuff like that as an excuse to not use them. But it feels like somebody didn’t do enough research. For the guy that decided that off shore wouldn’t be a good idea, I think he probably was thinking of a toaster in a bathtub. What does he think’s gonna happen? When you drop your phone in there, does he think it’s gonna charge?

Heather: How would you feel about getting behind here in Thunder Bay making spaces we currently use for one thing also be places where green energy is generated?

Ben: I’d totally get behind that. It’s a great cause. Something worth fighting for. If there’s something you don’t find is just, talk to people about it. People need to hear your opinion. Hey your opinion might not even be right but it’s still worth fighting for.


We need solar, we need wind

We need thermal non-fossil fuel power we need power

We need shelter, we need food

Goods and services outside the global supply chain

Yes we need local and we need wild

We need local, we need local and we need wild


Because we got troubles, mmm

We got troubles, we got troubles

We need you. We need you. We need you. 

Whatever you can do

We need you. 


Do what you can do. 

It’s not all up to you.

But if you can do what you can do what you can do

That would help to see us through


But if you can do what you can do you what you can do

That would help to see us through


So that’s the final thought I had to wrap us up today is what more can we do?

One of the things that bothered me are all these restrictions that just seem purely misguided to me

For instance Synergy will not let you generate more power than you draw - any extra you give away for free.

Why? Why not maximize how much renewable energy we generate in the city?

It’s not a competition issue here, it’s a save the world issue here

These things drive me bonkers

And similarly, the grants that the federal government are putting forward are great for home owners and businesses who own their property. But not everyone owns where they do business. You’re a landlord or you're a tenant, you can’t take advantage of these.

Being a landlord is not considered a business, it’s owning a passive investment. A big enough landlord who owns mucho properties might qualify as a business and get your hands on some of this money but most of Thunder Bay’s rental properties are very modest landlords. They don’t qualify for this funding. It might be worth doing anyway, it might still make sense. It’s just the limited thinking in the structure of these rebates that drives me a little bonkers.

Plus  on top of that, these rebates and these investments in renewable energy being financed by citizens at the ground level has been capped by the Federal government. They’ll spend so much and then they’ll stop investing in this aspect of how they’re financing this transition in our economy. That doesn’t make sense to me.

The thing is, the more of us point out what we think should be different - the more we have respectful conversations as equals with our employers, our colleagues, our school board, municipal government, provincial representatives - the more we talk to two people who might talk to two people. It’s hard to see how much of a difference but talk to Katherine Hayhoe ofsaving us- the Canadian climate scientist who went from worrying about how to get the facts out there, to realizing it’s the conversations we have that will have the greatest impact.

So what we can do - is probably more than is being spelled out to us. 

I have great hope in how it is all going to add up as we raise our voices and join hands and do what we can do.

Thank you for listening. I am Heather McLeod. This podcast is very personal. I speak for no one but myself. I write these songs, these words, record these conversations. And I am so glad that you listen. Please help spread the word. Next week is our grand finale for this season. Season three will happen in the Spring.