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Energy for All (HB 1490)

Front and Centered and Puget Sound Sage have put forward the Energy For All law (House Bill 1490), under the sponsorship of Representative Kirsten Harris-Talley, to make it easier for low income people and persons with disabilities to power their homes.

Washington Needs Energy For All

Secure access to energy is crucial to keeping Washington residents healthy, safe, learning, working, and thriving, and will facilitate a Just Transition to clean energy. In times of hardship, protecting access to power is an absolute imperative. Low income households and vulnerable populations, made up largely of communities of color, are suffering disproportionately from the public health and economic impacts of the Covid 19 crisis. There is greater residential reliance on utilities (water, energy, internet and phone) due to stay at home orders, job loss, remote work and education.

The Governor and Utilities and Transportation Commission moratoriums on shut-offs helped sustain residential energy service in Washington. Studies show that secure access to energy from shutoff moratoriums reduced COVID-19 infections by 4.4% and mortality rates by 7.4%,1 and with the moratorium remaining in place in Washington the rate of lives saved here is likely higher. But these protections are temporary and utilities are already seeking to collect on debt and recommence with disconnections for households who have fallen behind on payments.

Many Washingtonians were facing barriers to access before the pandemic, including confusion around eligibility, complicated enrollment, limited assistance funds, waiting lists, wide variance in access between service areas, delayed assistance after approval, and other administrative and resource hurdles. Many more will face significant income constraints long after the health crisis is under control and the things are deemed to be “back to normal”. This is the time for a fundamental rethinking of the energy assistance infrastructure in the state. Washington must take the lead on enabling the foundational elements of a just and equitable energy system where everyone has guaranteed access to the power they need to survive and affordable access to the power they need to thrive. This is a critical element to the clean energy transition and or work on the Clean Energy Transformation Act.

Energy For All (HB 1490) will Secure Energy Access

This legislation will require that:

  • Upon defaulting on energy bill payments, low income households and households with persons with disabilities will be offered a payment plan where they can pay up to 3% of their income to receive sustained access to power without threat of disconnection. This protection is available at any time of year.

  • Disconnections may still happen with sustained usage above the lifeline threshold (the greater of 200% average usage in service territory or 1500 kilowatt hours or 800 therms), or default of the payment plan. Effective communication and onsite visits are required before a utility can cut power.

This legislation will establish access to home energy as a basic need to which all Washington residents are entitled and an essential resource that may be accessed in full dignity without uncertainty about affordability and threats of disconnection. Having a statewide standard for energizing low income and households occupied by people with disabilities will move Washington towards equitable geographic distribution of benefits and improve coordination of regional and state level policy for advancing energy justice. Continuous access to sufficient power to meet basic needs must remain available without the threat of disconnection for nonpayment, and this legislation moves Washington in the right direction.

Help us pass Energy For All

The bill is set for a hearing before the House of Representatives on Thursday, 2/11 at 1:30pm. You can participate by joining, signing in “Pro”, submitting written comments, and even testifying. Please take action to support Energy For All (HB 1490)!

Are your communities experiencing the benefits of energy security under the current moratorium on shutoffs – and do you see the opportunities to improve access to energy for BIPOC and low income folks? We want to hear about it! Please reach out to me with any questions about this policy and ideas for everyone to have secure, safe, and dignified access to the power they need.

Write to your legislators and share your story.

  • How has staying connected to power and heat in the last year helped you, your family, or your community?
  • Why is energy access and security, regardless of race or income, important to you or your community?
Submit your written testimonies by Thursday, February 11th at noon.
Guidelines to submitting a written testimony:
  1. Go to this direct link to share your story.
  2. Under Position, make sure to select Pro.
  3. Enter your contact information.
  4. Write your story under the Written Testimony section. Below are some prompts that can help you get started.
  • “Staying connected to heat and electricity in the last year has helped me tremendously because…”
  • “Affordable and reliable access to energy, regardless of race or income, is important to me because…”

[1] “Housing Precarity & The COVID-19 Pandemic: Impacts of Utility Disconnection and Eviction Moratoria on Infections and Deaths Across US Counties,” National Bureau of Economic Research and Duke University, Jan 2021: https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w28394/w28394.pdf