Imagine your sole source of heating in the midst of a harsh Michigan winter is your kitchen’s oven. That is not just a hypothetical situation. Bethany Stutzman, community solutions director at United Way of Jackson County, said she has seen it happen when visiting a client, and it is especially worrying when there are children running around with an open oven.
Her point, raised during a panel discussion of affordability experts at the June 16 meeting of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s (MPSC) Energy Affordability and Accessibility Collaborative, was not to shock, but to illustrate the negative effects that financial burdens from high energy bills can have—effects that cannot be easily captured in terms of dollars and cents. As another panelist, Shama Mounzer of Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, said, “if you are unable to keep your family warm, that is causing you to have a financial burden, and that is causing you to have anxiety.” That anxiety in turn causes households to try to keep warm through unsafe ways, Mounzer said.
(See this previous blog post introducing the collaborative.)
So that we can better understand the affordability problem in Michigan and upgrade our standards, the MPSC’s collaborative has subcommittees examining several areas, with specific goals for each. As MPSC staff discussed during the meeting, these goals include:
- define energy affordability standard
- make recommendations on alignment of eligibility criteria, application process and implementation across programs
- develop strategy to ensure meaningful input on policy from impacted communities
- develop long-term data strategy
- review rule-based customer protections and make recommendations for improvement
The participants in the collaborative, including the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan and the MPSC staff, also plan to look to other states for examples of how Michigan can shore up its programs. For example, Massachusetts has received a lot of positive attention for its LEAN Multifamily Program, Aimee Gendusa-English of the Community Action Partnerships (and formerly of CUB of Illinois), said during the panel.
The collaborative will next meet on July 21. That meeting will feature a walkthrough of the website reporting data on utility customer arrearages and service shutoffs that the MPSC staff has been developing. On the MPSC calendar you can find agendas for these meetings with links to join.