British Columbia will provide up to 8,000 free portable air-conditioning units to keep vulnerable people cool and protected during extreme hot weather events, Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
The minister announced the giveaway on Tuesday as the province marked the two-year anniversary of the heat-dome phenomenon that covered much of the province in 2021 and resulted in more than 600 deaths.
Dix said the province will give its Crown power utility, BC Hydro, $10 million over three years to provide and install the air-conditioning units in the homes of people who are vulnerable and have low incomes, adding that the number of units could exceed 8,000 depending on demand.
“This means more vulnerable people will have access to cooling devices when we experience high temperatures and can keep themselves and their loved ones safer from extreme heat,” he said at a news conference.
A death review panel by the BC Coroners Service found that most of the 619 people who died as a result of the heat dome event were low-income and vulnerable people who were aged 60 or older.
The review found that 98 per cent of the deaths occurred indoors, in homes without adequate cooling from air conditioners or fans.
One of the key recommendations from the panel was that the government provide air-conditioning units to those living in single-room apartments.
“More than half of those who died lived alone,” said Dix. “Many of them (were) living in areas of higher material and social concerns. That is why this program will start by supporting lower income and vulnerable individuals who are at higher risks of heat-related impacts.”
Hydro president Chris O’Reilly said the utility will also offer all customers $50 off purchases of qualified, energy-saving air-conditioning units, with the rebates available until July 28.
Dix said the strategies represented a good and necessary step.
“This is, by standards on the Pacific coast anyway, an ambitious program that will help keep people safe,” said Dix, noting that cities such as Montreal and Chicago have previously experienced deadly heat events.
“What we have here is a comprehensive response,” he said.
It is anticipated at least 50 per cent of the air-conditioning units will be installed in apartments or multi-unit dwellings, with the balance in single-family dwellings, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2023.