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AARP VT Pushes for Electric Affordability

With the backing of the Vermont Legislature, AARP Vermont recently filed a petition with the Vermont Public Service Board to set a reduced electric rate for low-income residents. Authorized last year by the legislature and the Governor, the lower rate (a proposed 25% reduction of the monthly bill) would be part of an “Energy Support Program” which would also include energy conservation measures for participants. The proposal calls for the program to begin with the state’s two largest electric utilities—Green Mountain Power (GMP) and Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS). These utilities serve some 85% of Vermont households.

“Sadly, Vermont is the only northern state in the nation that does not help low-income citizens afford the electricity they need,” said Jim Leddy, state president of AARP Vermont. “Very poor Vermonters pay the highest percentage of their household income nationwide to cover essential home energy, ranking us dead last on energy affordability.”

In 2008, Vermont law was changed to allow the Public Service Board to set an electric rate for low-income individuals who live on $16,245 or less annually (150% of Federal Poverty level and lower). Today’s proposal seeks move that legislative measure into action.

“A utility-based energy support program would help to make Vermont more affordable for low and fixed-income seniors who want to remain in their homes as they age. Older and economically disadvantaged residents are hardest hit by unaffordable electric bills,” said Philene Taormina, AARP Vermont advocacy director.

The program would cost $1 for residential ratepayers per month, $3/meter for commercial customers and $100/meter for industrial customers. About 38,000 CVPS and GMP customers would be income-eligible to participate in the program and savings would average about $20/month per household. While aimed at low income residents, the program could benefit all classes of ratepayers who currently pay for the debt that utilities cannot collect. Vermont ratepayers are already paying for the hidden costs of disconnections, reconnections and unpaid bills.

“Ratepayer funded energy support programs are not just good social policy, they make economic sense as well,” said Taormina. “If the program successfully helps utilities reduce the amount of uncollected debt by making electric more affordable for low and fixed-income Vermonters—then all ratepayers benefit.”

“AARP survey research found that a strong majority of Vermonters (80%) support a low-income energy assistance program—even it means paying a little more on their electric bill,” said Taormina. “If our Public Service Board understands the obvious need and the benefits to Vermont ratepayers, we’re sure they will do the right thing.”

The Vermont Public Service Board is currently considering the plan for further action.