This blog post was written by Brady Watson, former Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
UPDATE: On January 21, 2021, Claudia Caballero was sworn in as KUB’s newest board member.
The ACT on KUB coalition came together in the summer of 2020 as a collaborative attempt among partners to bring more accountability, cost-savings, and transparency to the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB), the utility provider for the City of Knoxville. The coalition was formed as a response from the community to KUB’s increasing departure from its role as a public utility.
The coalition’s 2020 goal was to pass an amendment to the section in Knoxville’s city charter that governs KUB, and while this effort to amend the charter was not successful, Knoxville City Council did adopt a resolution that addressed many of the concerns raised by the coalition, including our request to bring a voice onto the KUB board that would represent low-income interests.
At its December 1 meeting, Knoxville City Council voted to approve Mayor Indya Kincannon’s annual nominee to the KUB board, Claudia Caballero. Caballero is a Honduran American and the President and CEO of Centro Hispano, a nonprofit organization based in Knoxville that promotes empowerment and civic participation through education, workforce development, youth and family engagement, and community-strengthening initiatives in the Latino community. Caballero will begin her seven-year term on the KUB board in January of 2021.
Members of the ACT on KUB coalition met via Zoom with Caballero this week, where she discussed some of her thoughts about KUB, as well as her background with Centro Hispano. The organization does a great deal of work with low-income communities, and one of its goals is to see the Latino community thrive culturally, educationally, and economically. While Caballero is not currently in the low-income bracket herself, she has spent years working to support low-income communities, and she says she plans to continue doing so as a KUB board member, while also lifting up the voices of those community members.
Removing Barriers to Enable More Participation
While Caballero does not have specific experience working with utility companies, she plans to engross herself in the job and is committed to advocating for the environment and the people who use KUB’s services.
One of the concerns raised by the ACT on KUB coalition is that board meetings take place in the middle of the day on weekdays. In our conversation, Caballero agreed the timing of the current board meeting can be a barrier for people who do not have the privilege of a flexible work schedule. During our conversation, Caballero also expressed interest in learning about KUB’s current fee structure and how it affects low-income families, many of whom she works within the Latino community.
As a refresher, every month, Knoxville residents pay our local power company, KUB (Knoxville Utilities Board), for utilities. Services provided by KUB include electric, gas, water, and wastewater. If you’re a KUB customer, you’ll find up to $85 in mandatory fixed fees, or basic service charges, customers are required to pay each month. That’s $85 before you even use a drop of water or a single unit of electricity or gas. Breaking those basic service charges out, KUB customers pay a set fee of $20.50 for electricity, $10.90 for gas, $18 for water, and $35.90 for wastewater.
If you’re wondering whether this is just the norm for similar-sized utility providers, know that it’s not. KUB’s fixed fee for electricity alone is 50-90% higher than most of their peer utilities serving the largest cities in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) service territory, including Memphis, Chattanooga, and Huntsville.
Notably, a key priority of Caballero’s will be to educate KUB customers about low-income weatherization services, that help customers lower their energy use and cut their energy bills–a win for customer’s wallets and the environment. In Caballero’s experience, the people who need these services most do not always receive the information to take advantage of them. She told us of a household she once visited that was very poorly insulated, had issues with pipes freezing, and had utility bills that were as high as $600 per month during the winter, in a 2 bedroom trailer. Caballero expressed that, in her mind, education and communication are the keys to giving people the tools they need to overcome this type of energy inequity that perpetuates other inequities and places the public’s health at risk.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy stands ready to support new KUB board member Claudia Caballero in her efforts to bring more accountability, cost-savings, and transparency to KUB and increase public participation. Want to get involved with the ACT on KUB coalition and hold elected and appointed officials accountable to their commitment to serving the public? Join us!