WIN has provided energy education to individual consumers, nonprofit organizations, and churches since the early 1980’s, including programs about utility payment plans, energy conservation, weatherization, and energy audits and energy education for the Duke Weatherization program.
Working In Neighborhoods inspects over 150 homes annually that have been weatherized by People Working Cooperatively. WIN also recently began inspecting homes weatherized by GoodCents, both in collaboration with Duke Energy. WIN’s Energy Department provides energy conservation education to low-income residents, and over 23,000 homes in seven counties in Greater Cincinnati have benefited from our education and inspection services. We also include energy education in our Homebuyers Classes.
Why Energy Education?
In the winter of 1978, Cincinnati experienced one of the coldest winters on record with a blizzard and record snow fall. Cincinnati area residents were also experiencing sharp increases in their gas & electric bills. When Cincinnati Gas & Electric Company customers fell behind on their utility bills, CG&E cut their service. In that brutally cold winter of 1978, three Cincinnati-area residents died when their utilities were cut off.
Community leaders in Northside, experienced in organizing around neighborhood issues, began raising questions about why the rates were going up so quickly. Working In Neighborhoods provided research to support residents in their organizing efforts. Who made the decisions about rates, payment policies and shut offs? How were rates set and what were the criteria? Who made decisions within the company (who was in charge) and what governmental body monitored utility rates and policies? What input did consumers have in decisions on utility rates and policies?
WIN learned that, in addition to Cincinnati Gas & Electric officials, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio had to approve CG&E’s rates and policies. However, hearings about energy rates or fuel adjustment pricing occurred in Columbus, Ohio (more than 100 miles away) during times that were inconvenient to consumers.
Organizing around Utility Reform
After gathering information about utility rates, WIN discovered that the factors involved in setting rates were very complex and that making the process accessible to consumers would require considerable work. WIN began by bringing low- and moderate-income consumers together. One of the first things people learned from each other was that while they were affected by utilities in different ways, they also had some of the same concerns. Everyone agreed that consumers did not have voice in the process, felt that CG&E was uninterested in public input from rate-payers, and that there was not anyone, including the Public Utilities Commission, who seemed to care.
Taking Action for Lasting Change
Community leaders formed the Citywide Coalition for Utility Reform and soon won their first victory, an agreement with PUCO to hold all hearings regarding the Cincinnati’s fuel adjustment clause in Cincinnati where consumers could have a say. Through petitions, public meetings with utility and public officials, and bringing media attention to the issue, WIN assisted CCUR in their work to bring about major changes in policies and procedures to protect utility customers to this day:
- An end to Winter Shut-offs, ensuring that low-income consumers would have heat in the winter.
- Keeping rates affordable; for more than 20 years, utility rates in the Cincinnati are among the lowest in the State of Ohio.
- Changes in payment policies, giving consumers more flexibility to pay off back bills.
- Rule changes guaranteeing consumers with medical disabilities would have heat and electricity to power equipment needed to sustain their lives.
- Changes in the make-up and the selection process of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
- Creation of the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP), adjusting bills to 15% of monthly income for low-income consumers.
- An agreement from all Ohio’s utility companies to finance weatherization for low-income consumers. The weatherization program includes energy education to teach people about energy conservation measures they can do themselves.
WIN provided a key role in fighting for utility reforms that increased public input and transparency, kept rates more affordable, and protected the most vulnerable consumers from life-threatening shut-offs.
In the mid-1980s, WIN staff went door-to-door and installed weatherization kits (plastic on windows, water heater wrap, energy efficient bulbs and other energy efficiency measures) as well as providing energy education about how to conserve. After the utility weatherization program began, WIN became the contractor to educate low income consumers about how they could save on their energy bill. WIN continues to provide energy audits and energy education for the Duke Weatherization program. WIN became the leading seller of compact fluorescent bulbs when they were still relatively unknown and not available at most retail outlets.