7 ways to solve your low-income utility customer problem
Quick Take: The Low Income Energy Issues Forum recently commissioned a meta-analysis of more than 70 studies, presentations and articles about programs for low-income customers. The result was a white paper issued by the Distributed Energy Financial Group. I've listed some of the highlights below, but you will want to download "Low Income Consumer Decision Making" for further study.
Turns out there ARE ways to make progress on this nagging challenge. And that smart grid technologies can help make things better. - Jesse Berst
Low-income customers are those making 200% of the poverty level or below (although some set the bar at 150%). They include retirees, unskilled and semi-skilled workers in low-wage jobs, those with disabilities and those who are highly educated but who have chosen a low-paying profession.
The very poor pay over half their income for energy according to one study. Utilities have been working for decades to formulate programs and protections. Yet many eligible families do not take advantage of assistance that could reduce their bills.
Those operating from a place of scarcity often feel overwhelmed with a spiraling sense of desperation. Ironically. If those families took better advantage of low-income utility programs, they would free up more cash for other needs and begin an upward spiral instead.
"The research supports that when low-income families have reasonable options for their energy use, assistance in understanding the tradeoffs, and the ability to manage their choices, they will choose to exercise control for the simple reason it will free up cash they can apply to other expenses," the white paper notes. "It is in the utility’s and other ratepayers’ interest for these customers to avoid the "debt and despair” vortex. Regulators and municipal oversight boards can help low-income consumers become active energy partners to the fullest extent possible by supporting effective policies, technology investments, and protections."