This blog post was written by Brady Watson, former Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
After community input from advocates like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), at their December 16 meeting, the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) board passed a resolution to reallocate Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) pandemic recovery funds to emergency bill assistance programs ($5 million) and weatherization ($1 million). KUB was offered $7.3 million to assist customers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through TVA’s pandemic relief credit program. This program offering is available to all utilities in TVA’s service territory, though the amount differs.
Advocates and Board speak up for KUB customers behind on bills
Initially, KUB staff presented a resolution at their October meeting which would have allocated $1.3 million of the funds toward assisting customers with payment arrangements for past due bills. The remaining $6 million was to be provided as a bill credit to all residential and standard business customers. This blanket credit would have saved the average residential customer about $17 over a 12 month period or about $1.40 per month for 12 months.
However, several KUB board members spoke up during the October meeting, after being urged by members of the Knoxville Water and Energy for All Coalition, of which SACE is a part, and asked that the $6 million instead be allocated to low-income weatherization and bill assistance for KUB customers behind on their utility bills.
KWEA also gave public comments at the October meeting (49:51) asking that the funding be reallocated so as to better assist community members most in need. Additionally, the KWEA coalition circulated a petition in the Knoxville community and gathered nearly 200 signatures which were delivered to the KUB board at the October meeting asking that KUB use the funding to forgive all KUB customer outstanding debt, and use the remaining funds of the recovery credit to provide relief to customers who are struggling to pay their bills. While KUB did not pledge to forgive ALL debt, this is certainly still a major win for our community.
KUB listens to its board and the community
Fast forward to the December meeting, and the KUB board delivered, listening to the Knoxville community by diverting funds to help those most in need. KUB staff will apply the estimated remaining $6 million in credits toward emergency utility bill assistance ($5 million) and home weatherization ($1 million).
After the resolution passed, the KWEA coalition expressed gratitude to KUB for listening to the community:
“As we work towards a strong and vibrant community, it is critical for our public utility to be responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable rate payers. Although there is more work to be done to establish sustainable solutions for families who face financial barriers, KUB’s move to use the pandemic recovery credit towards emergency bill assistance is the right move. I am grateful for the voices from our community who continue to make their voices heard for the betterment of all families.” – KWEA Steering Committee Member, Rev. Calvin Taylor Skinner
How did we get here? How do we move forward?
The Southeast faces a multitude of challenges that have manifested into some of the highest electricity bills in the country. For Tennesseans, and Knoxvillians, the layered challenges the community faces, including disproportionate energy burdens, have resulted in some KUB customers finding themselves behind on their utility bills. It doesn’t help that TVA has failed to invest in meaningful energy efficiency programs that would help ratepayers use less energy in their homes, and thus save money.
This funding reallocation would not have happened without public pressure and community members raising their voices. The KWEA coalition and SACE will continue to monitor the situation to ensure the aid is distributed to households that need it.
There’s much more work to be done, sign up for our newsletter to stay current on campaign updates and further actions you can take to advocate for more successes that will lead to increased clean energy and more affordable energy bills in our communities.