In 2019, DTE presented the Public Service Commission with an Integrated Resource Plan for how the utility would meet its electricity needs through 2035. The plan did not include solar energy, continued to use coal, and offered no help to low-income families. We knew they could do better. The Ecology Center and our partners provided expert testimony on the need to prevent shutoffs, lower fuel costs, and implement home health and safety measures together with energy efficiency improvements. The Commission was persuaded, and we worked closely with DTE to design pilot programs benefiting hundreds of low-income customers.
Reducing utility bills and improving home health and safety has been part of our work with public housing for years. We advise the Ann Arbor’s Housing Commission on how to develop new affordable housing that is fuel efficient, built with nontoxic materials, and generates its own energy. We campaigned vigorously to pass the affordable housing millage, and are excited to help create new housing that meets our high standards.
Meanwhile, we worked hard in Ann Arbor to promote community solar and develop the city’s A2Zero plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Our partnership with the Michigan Renewable Schools Program also paid off, with foundation support for K-12 schools across the state to generate their own solar energy.
Reducing High Energy Burden in Michigan
Our meals, safety, travel, finances, and so many details of our daily routines today are defined by our access to energy. Energy has become a necessity, yet, many families across Michigan and the country are struggling to pay energy bills. In 2017, 25% of all American households had a high energy burden, or spent more than 6% of their gross income on energy bills. Power shut offs are not the only risk: those with high energy burdens are more likely to cut their food and medicine spending, keep their homes at dangerous temperatures, and miss days of work or school due to poor health.
Low-income and minority households are particularly susceptible. Home energy efficiency improvements, such as sealing windows and doors, updating heating and cooling systems, and renovating roofs greatly reduce energy bills, yet these repairs and upgrades are financially improbable for many. Additionally, programs that may assist with home energy efficiency and weatherization cannot use their funding for some qualified residences due to mold, structural and cosmetic issues, and viruses, bacteria, or odor in the home.
Change is urgently needed, especially as our economy and our neighbors recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently the Ecology Center is working to ease high energy burden and support the transition to clean, efficient, affordable, and equitable energy access in all Michigan homes by:
- Working with other members of the Michigan Energy Efficiency for All Network (MEEFA) to engage the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and city and state government officials regarding energy efficiency
- Supporting pilot programs such as Consumers Energy and DTE Energy’s Health and Safety Pilots, which repair and replace roofs, heating and cooling, structural damage, and other causes for deferrals of eligible weatherization assistance homes
- Pushing for the growth of a Health and Safety fund and increase of Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding in the state budget
- Encouraging the introduction of Percent of Income Payment Plans (PIPP) and summer power shut-off protections for homes of seniors, children, and those with health conditions
- Prioritizing the just assistance and recognition of need in underserved and over-burdened communities and areas by current and future energy administration
We are also hopeful for the possible approval of future federal legislation, such as the American Jobs Act and the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act (NHIA). Both would greatly support women, people of color, people with disabilities, and low-income households and neighborhoods with affordable housing, upgraded home energy efficiency, and new standards of home health and safety.