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November 15, 2016: CPUC Adopts Major Improvements to Low Income Energy Efficiency Program

On November 10, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved a proposal to significantly increase energy efficiency opportunities for four million low-income Californians, reaching those in multifamily housing for the first time. A broad coalition of 19 organizations supported the proposal to enhance California’s Energy Savings Assistance (ESA) program, a move that could serve as a national model for easing the energy burden of low-income households, cutting energy waste, and reducing harmful pollution.

By adopting the first energy-savings target in the program’s history, creating a new $100 million whole-building multifamily segment for California’s underserved households in rental units, and adopting a host of new measures like requiring LED lighting, this proposal helps bring the ESA program into alignment with state policy that calls on California to double energy savings and slash greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The Energy Efficiency for All Coalition—which includes the organizations quoted below—actively participated in a two-year proceeding that shaped today’s outcome. In a joint letter submitted to PUC commissioners on Oct. 17, NHLP joined 18 other consumer, health, environmental, housing, business, and faith groups joined forces to urge the PUC to approve modifications to the ESA program to bolster energy efficiency opportunities for low-income households, especially underserved residents of multifamily housing. In addition to offering support for PUC Commissioner Catherine Sandoval’s Alternate Proposed Decision, the groups suggested improvements to make the overall policy more effective.

Up until now, California’s investment in low-income residential energy efficiency improvements has been primarily focused on single-family homes, excluding low-income Californians who are more likely to live in multifamily dwellings. Currently, California is overlooking major opportunities to reduce energy use and carbon pollution from a large portion of buildings. While today’s decision will help those tenants in subsidized housing, the program opportunities for low-income properties that are not subsidized was left unchanged, leaving out nearly one million households.

Reactions from California Delivers coalition members:

James Grow, Senior Staff Attorney, National Housing Law Project:
“Every dollar counts for low-income renters. With today’s PUC decision, more California families will benefit from energy efficiency improvements and play a larger role in California’s fight against air pollution and climate change.”

Andy Brooks, Director of West Coast Operations, Association for Energy Affordability:
“For families who are struggling, access to affordable energy makes a big difference. The PUC decision puts California on the right track to maximizing cost savings for those who need them most.”

Maria Stamas, Project Attorney for Energy and Climate Programs, Natural Resources Defense Council:
“This decision will transform the Energy Savings program into one that expands energy savings and lower bills to more Californians who most need this assistance. For the first time in the program’s history, renters in subsidized multi-unit apartments will receive meaningful energy efficiency program offerings. We hope the PUC will soon extend these new services to the one million lower-income households in non-subsidized apartments as well.”

Stephanie Chen, Energy and Telecommunications Director, The Greenlining Institute:
“Oh the heels of the legislature’s historic passage of SB 32, California is moving forward once again. Low-income families and people of color should have the tools they need to drive California’s clean economy revolution, and today’s decision does just that.”

Reactions from other supporters of the proposal:

Matt Schwartz, President and CEO, California Housing Partnership Corporation:
“Today's decision is a big step in the right direction toward fulfilling California's promise to ensure that low-income renters share in the economic and health benefits of energy savings. Equally importantly, for the first time it offers meaningful incentives to owners of affordable rental housing to maximize their participation in delivering these benefits to their low-income residents.”

Amy Dryden, Senior Program Manager, Built It Green:
“Energy savings and healthier homes should be within reach for all of California’s residents. We applaud the PUC for this effort to be more inclusive.”

For background information on the decision, see Maria Stamas’ blog. To reach Maria Stamas, contact Pat Remick, Natural Resources Defense Council, premick@nrdc.org, 202-289-2411.

California Delivers is a broad coalition of businesses, public health professionals, working families, equity organizations, consumer groups, community and faith leaders, environmental organizations, public officials, and other individuals, focused on protecting, implementing, and extending the benefits of AB 32 along with other clean energy and transportation policies that benefit all Californians. Visit CADelivers.org for more information.

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