- Consumers Energy will expand energy efficiency programs for income-qualified customers in its Michigan territory, and in particular is planning to spend $1 million in 2023-2024 to launch a targeted effort reducing energy burdens in the city of Flint.
- The expansion of electric and gas waste reduction programs is part of a settlement the Michigan Public Service Commission approved on Thursday between the utility and several environmental groups including Earthjustice, Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
- The settlement increases Consumers proposed budget for income-qualified electric efficiency programs by 29%, to a total of $85.3 million through 2025, and includes a focus on weatherization, targeted assistance, home repairs and healthy building materials.
The settlement approved last week is similar to one the PSC approved in January between DTE Energy and consumer advocates, which also included a geographically-targeted energy efficiency initiative to focus on low-income neighborhoods.
"It is the same core group of advocates that were involved," said Elena Saxonhouse, managing attorney of Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program. "The DTE settlement was final and public as we were negotiating with Consumers. So it did serve as a model."
Along with the increase in funding for income-qualified electric customers, Consumers will also raise its 2022-2025 budget for income-qualified gas efficiency programs by 56% over its original proposal, to more than $113 million.
The utility will also expand a "health and safety pilot," allocating $1.85 million for this year and 2023, to assist customers in arrears and promote the use of healthier building materials in insulation and air sealing products. In addition, the utility will work to provide efficiency services to customers who are struggling to pay utility bills in and around the city of Flint.
"We care for our customers and work to help vulnerable customers across our service territory," Katie Carey, director of external relations for Consumers and its parent company CMS Energy, said in an email. "The intent of the program is to create a targeted initiative to promote energy efficiency to help lower the energy burden for customers in the Flint area."
Lessons learned from the Flint initiative "will also allow us to create future programs that target and help other areas within our service territory, reduce energy usage and save money," Carey said.
"Flint is an area that has disproportionately high energy burdens, particularly among Black households," said Saxonhouse. "And so there's a great need there for measures that will help people bring their utility bills down. And air sealing and insulation has the added benefit of making their homes more comfortable."
Consumers also committed to launch a study this year to identify historic participation and coverage of its income-qualified efficiency programs. The goal, said customer advocates, is to identify areas with high numbers of economically vulnerable households and "to develop strategies for targeting energy efficiency services to households in those areas." The utility will also increase its data collection and reporting efforts to help advocates "better understand the equity of Consumers’ investments."
"We know that Black and Brown communities in Michigan are struggling to pay their bills and this settlement is a critical step towards fighting energy inequality in the state," Earthjustice Senior Attorney Chinyere Osuala said in a statement.