The California Public Utilities Commission released a draft decision on California’s Energy Savings Assistance (ESA) program last week, marking the beginning of a stakeholder process to set the future of the program through 2026.
The guidance encourages new direction for a program that has long-struggled to produce savings and fully spend its budget. The ESA program, designed to help low-income households save money on their monthly energy bills through no-cost weatherization services while improving their health, comfort, and safety—hasn’t been saving as much energy as it could be, and hasn’t been reducing spending in quite the way envisioned: More than $580 million in funding authorized to improve efficiency in low-income households still hasn’t been spent.
Reform is needed. Low-income households face a disproportionate energy burden, spending up to three times as much of their income on energy as other households and up to 15 percent of their total income on energy alone. To help address this inequity, the California Public Utilities Commission for the first time established formal energy-savings targets for the ESA program in 2016, instructing the investor-owned utilities to achieve meaningful reductions in low-income household energy usage, which correlates directly with bill savings.
Two years in—now halfway through the current program cycle—just how well are the utilities doing in achieving those targets?