The Antidote for Utility Debt and Power Shut-offs: Local Clean Energy

(07/2021) Neither the COVID pandemic nor its financial impacts on underserved communities is waning. According to East Bay Community Energy (EBCE)’s report to its Executive Committee in April, there were more than 50,000 EBCE ratepayers who have accumulated utility debt as a result of the pandemic’s economic fallout. In the middle of the utility debt crisis, Californians are also getting ready for another mega wildfire and power shut-off season. Our antidote for these multiple crises is local clean energy—a decentralized energy system. Local clean energy resources such as energy efficiency, solar panels and batteries can help ratepayers decrease their energy cost and become energy resilient. The East Bay Clean Power Alliance (EBCPA) has been prioritizing this advocacy in the last couple of months as a response to this increasing crisis.

 EBCPA has been advocating for utility debt relief locally while supporting statewide and national utility debt relief initiatives. Our local advocacy efforts succeeded in shaping EBCE’s approach to this crisis. After hearing our concerns, they created a page on their website to provide more information about existing debt relief programs and started looking into a possible utility bill relief credit program. EBCE is trying to leverage existing state debt relief programs such as AMP (Arrearage Management Plan) and use the Disadvantaged Community Green Tariff / Community Solar Green Tariff to help low-income ratepayers reduce their energy cost. In addition, there will be funds provided to non-profit organizations to assist in helping those with utility debt to navigate and enroll into discount and relief programs. 
We have also been urgently advocating for community resilience hubs to make our communities more energy resilient, especially during the mega wildfires and power shut-offs. Although EBCE has not been investing directly in resilience hubs or the islandable energy infrastructure, they will launch programs such as a critical facilities and medical baseline battery program that will increase energy resilience. In addition to these potentially equitable programs, the EBCE Board approved a budget resolution to bring back an item proposing a budget amendment for $250,000 to reinstate the Community Innovation Grants program targeted for non-profits that represent low-income communities and communities of color. Community innovation grants can support community-based organizations that help in increasing or establishing their communities’ energy resilience.