If approved, settlement is a win for low-income households, including $10 Million in energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades
In a win for low-income households, the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the N.C. Justice Center, N.C. Housing Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Vote Solar, along with the Sierra Club, the Public Staff, and Duke Energy, reached a partial settlement on affordability issues in the ongoing Duke Energy rate proceedings before the N.C. Utilities Commission.
The partial settlement, if approved by the Commission, will benefit households who are struggling to afford their essential utility service by way of shareholder contributions and a new bill-payment assistance program.
Under the settlement, Duke Energy shareholders commit to contribute $16 million over the next three years for the benefit of customers who are struggling to afford their electric utility service: $10 million on critical health and safety repairs that would allow for energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades to homes and $6 million for Duke Energy’s Share the Light fund, which helps low-income customers who are behind on their bills.
Too many homes that could otherwise benefit from bill-saving weatherization and efficiency upgrades are turned down because of problems like holes in the roof or moisture infiltration. Making critical health and safety repairs clears the way for more insulation or efficient heating and air conditioning equipment to be installed.
“The $10 million from this partial settlement for critical health and safety repairs will do a lot to help make sure households in North Carolina can access the new federal dollars coming down the pipeline as part of the Inflation Reduction Act for common sense energy efficiency measures, weatherization, and electrification,” said David Neal, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“As energy costs continue to rise, cutting unnecessary energy waste is key to making electricity affordable for many customers who already struggle to make ends meet. This settlement agreement commits Duke shareholders to provide $10 million in funding to help ensure customers with the greatest need are able to access essential energy efficiency programs that can deliver deep and sustained bill savings for many years to come,” said Forest Bradley-Wright, the Energy Efficiency Director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Prior to the settlement, Duke Energy Progress would otherwise match up to $375,000 per year in customer donations to Share the Light, so $6 million in contributions over the next three years is a significant boost to that program.
As part of the settlement, the parties have agreed to support Duke Energy’s proposed Customer Assistance Program as a three-year pilot and to collaborate on learning from this new bill-payment assistance program. The Customer Assistance Program, if approved by the Commission, will provide a flat discount for customers enrolled in the Crisis Intervention Program and Low-Income Energy Assistance Program. Customers who are eligible for assistance under those two programs have been found to be those most at risk for involuntary disconnections from unaffordable utility bills. Through the proposed Customer Assistance Program, those customers also will be referred to energy efficiency and weatherization services to help make their homes more comfortable and utility bills more affordable for the long term. The settling parties also agreed to consider future refinements to the Customer Assistance Program, including the development of tiered discounts, which target benefit amounts based on income level.
“We look forward to working with Duke, the Public Staff, Sierra Club, and other stakeholders to evaluate the Customer Assistance Program and explore refinements to effectively target bill-payment assistance in the future,” said Claire Williamson of the N.C. Justice Center. “Our ultimate goal is to achieve affordable electric utility service for all North Carolinians. The $6 million from the settlement for the Share the Light fund will help fill in the gaps in the meantime for some of those customers who have fallen behind on their power bills.”