Strengthening our Communities

Use Utility Data to Reduce Energy Insecurity and Build Credit



2017-05-03-1.jpgAcross the U.S there has been increased attention to building financial assets within low and moderate income (LMI) communities. Helping residents improve their credit scores is one path forward. For example, Operation Hope has
700 Credit Score Communities, Working Credit and Credit Builders Alliance has a national footprint. As we wrote in a previous blog post, utility bill payment histories have an important role to play in building credit.


But increasing credit scores is just one positive benefit.  At WattzOn, we think there is a larger opportunity. Utility programs for LMI communities are expensive. Our back-of-the-envelope calculation shows the total cost of rate subsidies plus program costs, averaged over all California residential customers is $125 per meter per year.1 There’s an easier - and less expensive - way to help LMI communities.


Here’s an example program with three goals:


  • Help residents track their utility bills, via mid-month email & SMS updates, including personalized savings tips. A recent review of California’s LMI programs showed that this is the #1 request from the program participants.
  • Help residents avoid late payments with reminders and rewards. Energy insecurity, the stress of paying utility bills, is as important to LMI residents as energy savings. Once in arrears, costs mount. We partner with community-based programs to help residents use low-cost/no-cost ways to pay their bills, avoiding expensive storefront alternatives.
  • Encourage residents to build a 24-month history of on-time utility payments which can be shared with credit organizations. This establishes credit and/or raises residents’ credit scores.

The program elements are self-reinforcing, and well-aligned with what LMI customers want. A recent detailed analysis of California LMI customers shows that energy insecurity (paying bills on time) is a larger concern than energy burden (the size of the bill). The LMI customers studied believed they were doing what they could to reduce costs. They needed help in making on-time payments.2


For LMI residents, the benefits are clear: lower bills and better access to credit, including lower rates on credit cards and auto loans.


For community programs, including those delivered by utility program providers, there is an opportunity to use modern software platforms, such as WattzOn, to track utility bill payments, provide consumer insights and deliver results that save utilities money.  The community program can be paid out of the collections budget of the utility, not the energy efficiency program budget. This keeps the procurement process simple.


WattzOn has worked with over 35 communities across the U.S., providing software solutions to help residents save energy. It is time for shift, and to integrate energy savings with the expanded program goals of on-time utility payments and building  credit for LMI customers.  


Let’s work together!  Please contact us.

 


1Based on calculations from quarterly reports by California IOUs: https://apps.cpuc.ca.gov/apex/f?p=401:57:0::NO:RP,58,RIR:P5_PROCEEDING_SELECT:R1002005
2http://www.liob.org/
   

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