As temperatures begin creeping above 100 degrees and air conditioners strain to keep homes and businesses cool, Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) kicked off its official roll out period for its new Share the Pennies program.
MLGW, TVA’s largest customer and the nation’s largest three-service municipal utility, invited customers with the largest energy burdens to attend its Caring for the Community kick off event, held at the Orpheum on July 14th. SACE staff were on hand to celebrate, having worked diligently for almost two years with advocacy groups like the Memphis Branch of the NAACP, political leaders, MLGW staff and community members to bring about this new program.
[Be sure to sign our online petition , found at the end of this blog, to help bring more funding for low-income energy efficiency and more clean energy to Memphis!]
At the event, MLGW gave customers more information on how the Share the Pennies program works and laid out eligibility requirements for the home weatherization grants that will be given out under the program. An energy technician was also on hand for a presentation on how customers can start saving energy and money on their own – by making simple adjustments at home, such as adjusting thermostats, turning down water heaters and applying weather stripping to leaky windows and doors.
Memphians are no strangers to struggle – whether it’s struggling to stay cool in increasingly long, hot summers, struggling to make ends meet as more than 25% of the population lives under the poverty line or struggling for civil rights, like the sanitation strikes that brought Dr. Martin Luther King to town or the Black Lives Matter protest that shut down the I-40 bridge almost one year ago.
More often than not, Memphians rely on each other in the face of a challenge, so it’s only appropriate that now, when other options are unavailable in the short-term, Memphians are turning to each other to help lift unnecessarily high energy burdens that are contributing to an intergenerational cycle of poverty. The Share the Pennies program, which came out of a community-driven effort to find relief for burdened communities, encourages Memphians to come to each other’s aid in the short-term, as we continue to fight for long-term solutions from sources outside our communities.
Rates are low in Memphis, when compared to other areas in the country, because we buy our power from a federal public power provider, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). So why do we have the highest energy burden for lower-income communities in the country? There is no one answer to that question, but rather, many factors contribute to this problem, including the weather patterns that bring deadly heat and humidity to the Bluff City every summer, with heat indexes often above 105 degrees.
But this issue isn’t just found here in Memphis. Older, inefficient housing, where badly sealed windows and doors, poorly insulated walls and attics, and outdated appliances cause energy usage to soar in economically vulnerable communities across the country. Many of the energy burdens faced in Memphis are due to high energy usage, not high energy rates. High energy usage leads to high energy bills, because utility bill amounts are a reflection of energy usage multiplied by the utility rate.
The Share the Pennies program will begin on January 1, 2018 and will allow low-income customers, who own their home, to apply for up to $4,000 in weatherization grants. Customers who are living below the federal poverty guidelines, can apply for assistance starting in January. If a customer meets eligibility requirements, an MLGW energy technician will visit the home to do an energy audit and identify where energy leaks are occurring and prioritize where grant money will be spent in order to maximize energy savings. MLGW will then assign qualified contractors to perform the work and follow up after work is done to ensure work is done properly.
Funding for the program will come from rounding up customers’ bills to the nearest whole dollar, a process that will also begin on January 1, 2018. Over the course of a year, a customer will see no more than $11.88 per year added to their bills via the roundup mechanism. If a customer does not wish to have their bill rounded-up, they can let MLGW know now. In fact, the main reason for the 6-month roll out period is to make sure customers have enough time to learn about the program and make the decision to opt-out if they so choose. Customers will be able to opt-out in a variety of ways, including via an online form found here.
For those of us who can, we should Share Our Pennies to help lift Memphis communities out from under these crippling energy burdens. If you live in Memphis and want to join us in the fight to bring more energy efficiency and clean energy solutions to the people of Memphis, take a few minutes to sign our petition here. Memphis has the power, let’s harness it!