Urban Residents See Few Energy Efficiency Benefits

By Published On: June 5, 2009

California’s energy efficiency programs provide little benefit to working class and urban Southern California customers, according to speakers at a California Public Utilities Commission hearing in Los Angeles June 1. While clouds rolled in over the Culver City Veterans Memorial Complex, regulators were apprised of how their efficiency policies are not trickling down to many Californians. Residents and small businesses remain unaware of available services and rebates from investor-owned utilities’ programs, according to many witnesses. “The only things we’re able to put our fingers on is the compact fluorescent light bulbs,” L.B. Tatum, Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches organizer, testified to the commission. Tatum joined others from urban Los Angeles County in making a number of recommendations to the CPUC at a hearing on the utilities’ proposed 2009-11 energy efficiency programs. Commissioner Dian Grueneich and administrative law judge David Gamson--who lead the commission’s energy efficiency program proceeding--presided at the Culver City hearing before going to San Diego for more hearings June 2. Gamson said he intends to slate additional public hearings in northern California before the CPUC takes any final action on the plans, which propose spending $3 billion in ratepayer money. “I think people don’t know what they’re paying for or how it can help them,” said Cheryl Branch, Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches’ executive director. She said the religious organization recently surveyed its members and found that fewer than 10 percent knew about the availability of utility home energy audit services funded by the energy efficiency programs. Residents also expressed hope that the spending outlined in the utility plans can stimulate jobs and economic opportunities in urban communities, which have been hard hit by the economic downturn. Local contractors and residents should have a chance to work in the energy efficiency field, said Gregory Clayborne, a resident. “Dollars have been misappropriated,” he said, noting that the programs take ratepayer money out of working class communities but do not return it. Residents suggested that to benefit communities economically energy efficiency money should flow through local non-profit organizations, from homeowner associations to churches, because they are more in tune with what people need and are better able to provide them information and service than more remote utilities. Grueneich responded that the commission plans to change the way the utility energy efficiency programs are marketed to the public when it approves the 2009-11 plans. “We’re doing okay,” she said, but admitted improvement is needed. The CPUC is expected to take final action on the proposed plans before summer ends.

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