Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Move into the guest house damnit!

Energy costs climb at 24 Sussex as 'residents' stall renovations

Glen McGregor
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
The NCC last year spent more than $69,000 n heat and hydro for 24 Sussex, billing records obtained through Access to Information Act show. (Photograph by: Mike Carroccetto)

OTTAWA — With Prime Minister Stephen Harper declining to move his family out of 24 Sussex Drive, the National Capital Commission has been unable to perform substantial renovations to curb rising energy costs at the official residence.

The NCC last year spent more than $69,000 on heat and hydro for the 145-year-old home, billing records obtained through the Access to Information Act show.

That’s up about 20 per cent from the Harpers’ first year in the home, largely because of increased energy rates.

Hydro Ottawa bills for the 12 months ending in January totalled $56,566. Over the same period, the gas bill weighed in at $12,573.

Total energy bills averaged about $5,800 monthly.

The NCC has been trying to find a suitable second home for the prime minister since 2008, when then-auditor general Sheila Fraser said renovations to the heritage property were urgently required.

The overhaul would require “the residents,” as the NCC calls them, to move out of the home for about 18 months.

The NCC had considered the guest house at Rideau Gate, just across the street from 24 Sussex, as one possible temporary location for the Harpers. Royal Family members stay in the home when visiting Ottawa.

Then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff offered to hold off moving into Stornoway and letting the Harpers use the official residence for the leader of the Opposition.

The Harpers did not publicly respond to the suggestion, which would have been loaded with political symbolism during a period of Harper’s minority government.

Instead, the Prime Minister’s Office has consistently maintained that Harper and his family find 24 Sussex “adequate to their needs” and have no plans to vacate.

The NCC’s plan for the estimated $10-million renovation includes upgrades of insulation, windows, heating and air-conditioning systems, including the installation of an energy-efficient geothermal system that warms in winter and cools in summer.

Harper said during a television interview in 2008 that he was willing to relocate his family, but five years later, he and his family remain in the 34-room residence.

The project is now on hold as the Harpers are not ready to move and the NCC has apparently stopped asking.

Over the years, the NCC has taken on small projects to improve 24 Sussex’s energy efficiency. Five windows in the family room were upgraded with modern units and the roof and its insulation have been replaced. When appliances reach the end of the life cycle, they are swapped out for EnergyStar-rated equipment, wherever possible, the NCC says.

Steps were also taken to improve the efficiency of the hot-water system, and temperature controls were installed in the pool house.

But the home’s antiquity — it was built in the late 1860s — and disrepair have pushed up the energy costs. The limestone exterior walls are poorly insulated and most of the windows were installed in the 1950s.

Former prime minister Paul Martin’s wife, Sheila, complained of drafts in the bedroom in winter months, when the home is heated with a gas-fired water boiler.

The bills include energy costs for five separate buildings on the property, and the private residence section of the home accounts for about 20 per cent of the total square footage, the NCC says.

The adjacent indoor pool enclosure, with its heater and pumps, security lighting and the small auxiliary buildings used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police protective detail all drain the power further.

The Harpers have access to a second residence at Harrington Lake, Que., a half-hour drive from Parliament Hill, but the home is likely too far from the children’s’ schools in downtown Ottawa to be convenient over the school year.

The Harpers also own a home in Calgary.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

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