ACEEE report: Energy efficiency helps rural ratepayers

It is no secret that rural communities continue to struggle, even in the strong economy, or that they frequently get overlooked when assistance programs are being planned.

According to a recent report You are leaving WAPA.gov. by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, rural residents spend an average of 4.4 percent of their income on energy bills—energy burden—compared to the 3.3 percent national average. Low-income households, including the elderly, renters and residents of manufactured and multifamily housing, have an energy burden nearly three times that of higher income households.

The High Cost of Energy in Rural America: Household Energy Burdens and Opportunities for Energy Efficiency focuses on energy costs related to the physical housing structure.

The report concludes with program options to address energy affordability, and details challenges and opportunities related to serving rural households with energy efficiency.

Life-changing programs
Factors that contribute to energy burden include the physical condition of a home, a household’s ability to invest in energy-efficiency improvements and the availability of efficiency programs and incentives that put energy-saving technologies within reach. Energy-efficiency and home weatherization programs can greatly reduce this burden and make energy bills affordable. Rural utilities can help by offering these types of programs and partnering with local and regional organizations to increase their reach.

Aiken Electric Cooperative’s Help My House on-bill program, highlighted in the ACEEE video “Rural Energy Burden,” You are leaving WAPA.gov. demonstrates how utility programs can make a difference in low-income customers’ lives. Participants have been able to slash their electricity bills nearly in half by getting their homes weatherized through Aiken’s program. That is money homeowners can now use to pay for day-to-day necessities.

Learn more
A second report will be released by ACEEE this fall exploring lessons learned from rural program leaders across the country. In October, ACEEE is holding its first Rural Energy Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, to examine how energy-efficiency technologies and programs can help rural America revitalize its economy. Industry, utility, cooperative, nonprofit, academia and government representatives will be discussing how to improve and expand efficiency programs that serve rural communities.

You can download this and other reports from ACEEE’s website for free.

Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 8/23/18

New report explores ways to help low-income customers

(Artwork by DEFG)

Management consulting firm DEFG recently released their EcoPinion Consumer Survey Report No. 31, The Long Struggle Continues: Improving Service to Low-Income Customers in the Utility SectorYou are leaving WAPA.gov.

The report draws on data from more than 1,000 Americans to yield 534 respondents with household incomes below $50,000. Members of the Low Income Energy Issues Forum, a diverse working group seeking innovations to make utility service more affordable, collaborated on the survey.

Even as the economy continues to grow stronger, many Americans still struggle to pay their utility bills. The number of low-income respondents who reported trouble paying their utility bills in 2017 increased 7 percent over the previous year. Also, 20 percent of respondents had applied for energy assistance.

Contributing to the general anxiety of trying to provide for their families, low-income customers experience uncertainty about the utility bill itself, the complexity of applying for energy assistance and confusion about how to control costs. Utilities seeking to improve service to this demographic might offer a range of voluntary options that customers could choose according to their lifestyle.

Consumers who are intensely focused on their daily budgets need more convenient choices. Simplifying tariffs, facilitating energy assistance through social service agencies and offering individualized “energy counseling” are among the services that could provide greater control to customers with limited financial means.

The findings also indicated that the low-income segment is far more engaged with their energy consumption than utilities believed. A majority of survey respondents have taken action on their own to save money on electric or heating bills. Consumers are eager for more information to save even more.

Perhaps the challenge is not consumer engagement but the entire construct of utility programs and policies to assist these customers. For example, a key metric used by advocates is “energy burden,” referring to the percentage of a household’s income required to pay utility bills. Yet, when asked, low-income customers understood “burden” somewhat differently; they focus more on eliminating uncertainty and getting help when they need it (situational awareness). This is an important distinction.

The 2017 survey points to the long struggle to improve service to low-income customers, beginning with utility program developers being willing to listen more carefully to customers themselves. We must be prepared to let go of the assumptions that undergird programs and assistance measures intended to help these customers, and develop offerings that more closely match their needs.

You can download EcoPinion Consumer Survey Report No. 31 and other reports and articles from EcoPinion Publications. Registration and login is required. You can also sign up to receive email updates.

Source: DEFG EcoPinion, 2/12/18

White paper compiles data on utility programs for low-income customers

Low-income households spend on average three times more of their income on energy bills You are leaving WAPA.gov. than other households, and easing the pain of higher bills during peak-load times of year is a continuous challenge for utilities.

This group of customers can be hard to reach, leading to a hit-or-miss track record for low-income energy-efficiency programs. But the benefits of successful programs stretch beyond energy and bill savings to include fewer shut-offs, healthier homes, less outdoor pollution and more local jobs. It is well worth the effort to design an effective program, and a new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) can take some of the mystery out of doing it.

The baseline assessment of more than 70 utilities’ electric and natural gas programs chronicles total investments in these programs, energy savings impacts, customer participation and use of best practices. The study looked at the largest electric and natural gas utility serving each of the 51 largest metropolitan statistical areas.

ACEEE researchers found that low-income programs varied in terms of how deeply they address whole-home energy-efficiency needs and how accessible they were to customers. While many utilities design and administer impressive, effective low-income programs, many of those programs could be improved with best practice elements or increased resources.

The report also looks at best practices in implementation, including whether programs target specific households based on energy burden or other vulnerabilities and streamline enrollment for easier access. Partnering with the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) to leverage funds and reach more customers is another factor that impacts the effectiveness of a low-income program.

The study includes maps, data tables and new state-level information on low-income program requirements, cost-effectiveness rules and coordination with the WAP program. Utilities can use the data to see how their programs compare to those of similar utilities and to identify opportunities for adding best practice elements.

Read the entire ACEEE blog post for more information, and share your free copy of the report with state and local policymakers as well as other stakeholders. Also, if your utility has a program to help low-income customers, Energy Services Bulletin would like to know about your experiences.

Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 7/11/17

Consumer surveys explore interest in targeted payment, program options

Energy consulting firm DEFG You are leaving WAPA.gov. has released two new consumer survey reports that could be useful to power providers looking for ways to improve service and satisfaction among different customer groups.

The Best Service for Utility Customers with the Least explores the need for more payment options and programs serving low-income households. These consumers continue to have trouble paying electric and heating bills and struggle to reduce their energy consumption. Respondents expressed concern about paying fees and penalties on their electric bills, and also showed interest in community solar programs. The survey indicates that there are opportunities for utilities to offer this customer group more and better ways to help them manage their energy budgets.

Prepayment appeals to a more segmented audience than low-income programs, but Prepay Energy: Past the Tipping Point and Scaling Up for Success finds that certain customers would welcome this option. Consumers who have adopted prepayment, such as gift cards and reloadable debit cards, and mobile bill payment would like to see their utilities offer them the same convenience. The reasons respondents gave included wanting more control over their energy costs and eliminating surprises by paying for energy as they use it.

An emerging theme across both reports is that consumers across income spectrums are open to utility programs that could help them gain more control over their energy bills. Both reports can be downloaded with a simple email registration.

Source: DEFG, 2/1/17

IREC publication explores renewables options for low-, moderate-income consumers

“Shared” and “community” solar programs are making renewable energy a more affordable option for Americans, but spreading those benefits to low and moderate income (LMI) households still poses a challenge for utilities. Shared Renewable Energy for Low- to Moderate-Income Consumers: Policy Guidelines and Model ProvisionsYou are leaving WAPA.gov.  a new publication from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), offers comprehensive guidelines on how to do it with the most meaningful results.
IRECreport

The publication offers information and tools for adopting and implementing shared renewables programs that benefit LMI individuals and households. Utilities, shared renewable energy developers, program administrators and others will gain insight into the unique challenges LMI consumers face to enjoying the benefits of shared renewables programs. Specific case studies examine lessons learned and highlight innovative tools and approaches. Stakeholders will find model rules to provide a strong starting point for discussion and potential implementation.

Low- to moderate-income households (those earning up to 120 percent of Area Median Income) represent approximately 60 percent of U.S. households. These consumers typically spend more of their income on energy costs than higher-income households, so they are in the greatest need of help with reducing their energy bills. Unfortunately, the people in these households often face considerable financial barriers to participating in programs that could help them. Problems like lack of access to capital or insufficient credit can prevent them from benefiting from conservation, energy-efficiency and renewable energy measures such as shared renewable projects.

These first-of-their-kind policy guidelines also consider that moderate-income customers may have different circumstances (such as higher credit scores or higher rates of ownership) than low-income customers. Instead of designing programs that approach all LMI customers as a group, programs that address the range of customers within the LMI category may be a more effective way to reach them.

The publication acknowledges that some barriers are due to policies unrelated to program design. IREC advises policymakers and others to be aware of these restrictions and take them into account when designing programs.

IREC has also produced a four-page quick reference guide to the full LMI report. The guide provides a summary of the key components of the guidelines and model provisions, along with references to the relevant sections in the main report.

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 3/10/16

Make community solar better with free webinar series

Oct. 22, 12 p.m.
Nov. 19, 12 p.m.
Dec. 10, 12 p.m.

The Community Solar Value Project You are leaving Western's site. (CSVP) and Clean Energy Ambassadors You are leaving Western's site. have teamed up to produce a series of free webinars and discussions on how to make community solar better.JillSolarSlide350

The series has enlisted utility leaders and key stakeholders to weigh in on different aspects of this multi-faceted challenge. Discussions will cover such topics as better solar project design and procurement, ways to address solar variability by using demand-response and storage companion measures, program design for targeted customer appeals and win-win programs for low-income communities.

Join Clean Energy Ambassadors on Thursday, Oct. 22, for How SMUD and Other Utilities are Rethinking Marketing for Community Solar. You are leaving Western's site. A long-time leader in US solar energy deployment, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving Western's site. (SMUD) crafted many programs to reduce the economic barriers to solar energy deployment. SMUD’s Solar Shares program targets renters and homeowners who may have solar siting issues to make solar energy accessible when customer-sited generation is not an option. Learn about the innovative solutions SMUD and other utilities are creating to improve upon their past program efforts and to make the benefits of clean energy even more widely available. A question and answer session will follow the presentations.

The November 19 webinar will explore Community Solar that Makes Sense for the Utility and its Low-income Customers. Speakers will discuss projects that address challenges specific to the low income market and different approaches utilities have taken.

On Dec. 10, Holiday Review: New Tools and Resources from the Community Solar Value Project, the final webinar in the series, examines the CSVP’s progress in helping utilities and their customers to work together to speed the transition to a high-value, low-carbon utility of the future.

Recordings of two other discussions, Central Better Community Solar Procurement and Design and How Demand Response and Storage Measures Address Solar Variability and Add Value, are available online.

All webinars take place at 12 p.m., Central Time. There is no cost to participate but registration is required.

Source: Clean Energy Ambassadors, 9/30/15

Webinar explores energy efficiency for low-income customers

May 21, noon CDT

Go beyond weatherization kits and compact fluorescent light bulbs!

Too often, utility programs to help low-income customers begin and end with the tried-and-true measures. The Clean Energy Ambassadors Redirecting to a non-government site free Lunchtime webinar for May highlights innovative energy-efficiency programs that can really make a difference on your low-income customers’ utility bills.

Join your utility colleagues online the third Tuesday of each month from 12-1 p.m. Central time. The Lunchtime Webinar Series offers candid, informal discussions that address the needs of consumer-owned power providers and their rate payers. Visit Clean Energy Ambassadors to register for this free event and to see the full line-up of CEA services and events. If you have any questions please contact Anthony Cutler at 406-969-1040.