Memphians Caught in the Dark

All across Tennessee, low-income families are put in a difficult situation due to high energy burdens. The term “energy burden” refers to the portion of household income spent on energy bills. In Tennessee, some residents are paying as much as 20% of their annual income on their energy bill.

Michael MacMiller | December 7, 2018 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Justice, Utilities

All across Tennessee, low-income families are put in a difficult situation due to high energy burdens. The term “energy burden” refers to the portion of household income spent on energy bills. In Tennessee, some residents are paying as much as 20% of their annual income on their energy bill. Why does this happen? During hot summers and cold winters, Memphians have to consume a lot of power, often in energy inefficient homes, especially those in low-income neighborhoods. Many of these homes lack the roof insulation, window caulking, and LED light bulbs which reduce energy costs year round.

But who is providing this power and how can we lower our bills? In case you didn’t know, Memphis Light Gas and Water (MLGW) doesn’t generate your power, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) does. In case you didn’t know, MLGW doesn’t decide which energy source generates our power, TVA does. Also, TVA has a non-compete clause in all of their contracts with MLGW. This means that MLGW cannot develop alternative sources except through TVA. TVA, a monopoly, can set energy prices without consideration of competing power companies.  Starting to get the picture? You have been paying a bill your whole life without being presented with all the information you deserve as a stakeholder and customer. MLGW does not provide critical information on their bills about fixed fees, which are fixed charges that appear on your bill before you even flip on a light switch every month.  They have monthly fixed fees for electricity ($11.89), water ($7.84) and gas ($10.22). All of these are in addition to usage fees. In 2019, a $6.48/month charge for grid access may be added. MLGW is hiding these fixed fee charges by refusing to show them on our bills, despite several formal requests by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. This means that many Memphians are left in the dark.

Eric Nelson, a new volunteer with Renew Tennesee in Memphis who wants to Renew Tennessee!

In response, we at SACE have created the RenewTN campaign, which includes a call to action for MLGW to provide transparent billing and show us the fees! My ask is for you to join me and hundreds of Memphians so we can continue putting pressure on MLGW to be more transparent and put the fixed fees on the bills, and provide other options to help lower utility bills, like more access to solar power.

Our bills are already high, and it’s probably going to get worse. We need your help to stop arbitrary rate increases. If you haven’t already, please take action by sending a personal email to MLGW’s general manager in a request for more transparency. Click here to get started.

Memphians responding to these letters are sharing their stories about how they are being left in the dark, and they are telling. Here is one: “My husband and I are on a fixed income, and our bill gets up to $600 a month sometimes and we are already a $1000 behind on our last two months…”

So, it’s time to get to work and Renew Tennesee. As a Regional Organizer for SACE, I’m working with over a hundred Memphians like this about these issues. We need you to join us, so that we all can Renew Memphis and begin having a sustainable city with affordable energy! To get involved in the movement, just shoot me an email: michael@cleanenergy.org.

Michael MacMiller
Michael MacMiller Jr. is joining the SACE team as the in Memphis, TN. Michael is responsible for building relationships, implementing voter registration drives, organizing advocacy actions, training volunteers, and activating…
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