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Energy-Efficiency Programs Aid Virginians with High Utility Costs

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Thursday, August 17, 2023   

Growing energy prices have Virginians seeking relief to high utility bills. Earlier this year, Appalachian Power announced its customers will see a $20 increase in their electric bills.

As the world moves to a more sustainable climate future, there are programs to help people make their homes more energy efficient, thus reducing energy use. One is the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income homeowners make homes more energy efficient and weather resistant.

Kajsa Foskey, economic justice outreach coordinator for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, noted the COVID-19 pandemic was a major factor for high utility bills.

"A lot of folks over that pandemic, it really hit them hard, and when the utilities resumed disconnections during that time, there were some folks who had really large balances that had accumulated over the pandemic," Foskey observed. "Because they were prioritizing paying other more pressing bills like rent, making sure groceries and medications were paid for."

A study from the Rocky Mountain institute showed the pandemic drove utility cost increases. Appalachian Power and Dominion Energy offer their own weatherization programs as well, and could include an energy audit, to evaluate how a house could be losing heat or air conditioning, as well as other cost-saving measures.

In November, the Percentage of Income Payment Plan from the Department of Social Services and the Department of Housing and the Community Development will begin operating. This plan came about after the Virginia Clean Economy Act was passed in 2020.

Foskey described how the program will work.

"The program is really to make energy more affordable and reduce energy burdens and insecurity for low-income Virginians," Foskey pointed out. "Especially, if you live in a monopoly system where, if you can't afford the cost of your electricity, you can't go to another supplier and say, 'Hey, can you offer me cheaper electricity?'"

The plan reduced energy burdens of eligible people by limiting electric bill payments to no more than 6% of the person's annual income, if the heating source is anything other than electricity. It would be no more than 10% of a person's income, if the heating source is electricity.

Disclosure: The Virginia Poverty Law Center contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Housing/Homelessness, Poverty Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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