As a result of ECC’s advocacy efforts, approximately 20,000 households will benefit from direct bill payment and conservation assistance programs designed to supplement the Energy Assistance Program (about 17% of the MN Energy Assistance Program customers). In addition, ECC’s numerous policy initiatives and regulatory efforts provide additional consumer protection to the over 400,000 Minnesota households living at or below 50% of state median income.

 

Financial victories

Since 1993, ECC has leveraged nearly $116 million in non-federal resources for low-income utility bill payment and conservation assistance programs. Examples of securing additional resources include:

  • Over $5 million each year for a low-income electric bill discount (and the POWER On Program) for Xcel Energy customers.
  • Over $8.5 million each year for natural gas bill discounts • Increasing amount and dedicating a source for low-income conservation programs
  • State appropriations to supplement federal energy assistance and weatherization programs
  • Pre-purchasing propane and fuel oil and passing savings onto low-income delivered fuel consumers
  • Negotiating settlements in utility rate cases and other regulatory proceedings

Please contact us if you would like more information about any of the activities highlighted above.

Legislative victories

  • Passed legislation requiring the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to consider ability to pay as a factor in setting utility rates and establishing low-income utility programs
  • Worked to pass legislation requiring utilities to invest in low-income conservation programs, including a requirement that spending on utility low-income conservation must increase with increases in utility revenue
  • Strengthened and streamlined Minnesota’s Cold Weather Rule law. Under that law, customers pay what they can and their heat can not be turned off in the winter.
  • Worked with allies to pass utility service quality standards, including complaint and call center response time, disconnection rates and meter-reading frequency.
  • Co-led the 2001 POWER campaign to defeat electric utility deregulation and increase utility consumer protections
  • Passed legislation to prohibit utility service disconnections during periods of extreme heat
  • Wrote and passed the law defining service or load limiters as heat-affected disconnections, subjecting their use to the same protections under Minnesota's current Cold Weather Rule (restricting heat-affected shut-offs in the winter)
  • Passed legislation requiring utilities to provide year-round monthly reports to the Public Utilities Commission, including average residential customer bills, past due amounts, service disconnections and reconnections. Advocates can use this information to ensure utility compliance with Minnesota laws and to develop additional policy initiatives.
  • Passed legislation requiring the Department of Commerce to purchase lower cost propane in the summer for low-income propane customers and to pass the pre-buy savings onto customers allowing their Energy Assistance Program grants to purchase more fuel for heating.

Regulatory Victories

In the 2008 Minnesota Power rate case, the Company proposed to eliminate their inverted block rate structure. 
 
That structure provides lower electric rates for lower energy usage and the rates increase as the amount of electricity usage increases.  This rate structure directly benefits one-quarter of all Minnesota Power customers (26,000), promotes affordable electric service for low and fixed income customers and provides a conservation incentive to use less electricity.  In the rate case, Minnesota Power proposed to eliminate that rate design and the Minnesota Department of Commerce Office of Energy Security supported the Company’s proposal.
 

ECC worked with the Citizens Federation (formerly Minnesota Senior Federation – Northeast) and prevailed in preserving Minnesota Power’s rate structure.  Rather than experience electric bill increases of over 100% as the Company had proposed, ECC’s expert testimony convinced the PUC to retain the current rate design, limiting the overall electric bill increase for the lowest usage customers to about $3.00 per month.

Less than nine months after the 2008 rate case, Minnesota Power filed another rate increase request.  Under the Company's current proposal, residential customers would experience an additional average increase of 19%.  ECC is currently intervening in this case.

In January 2010, the Commission ruled to include inverted block rates and expanded low-income energy conservation in the CenterPoint rate case.  Under the new block rate structure, CenterPoint customers who use very small amounts of gas (e.g. in apartments using gas only for cooking) and up to 80% of the residential average usage received a discount on the cost of gas rather than an increase.  Average residential customers experienced a 3% increase rather than the originally proposed 6%.  Customers who use above the residential increase will pay more for natural gas costs.  This rate design will benefit low-usage customers (disproportionately low and fixed income customers) and encourage higher usage customers to conserve.

 As a result of work in that case, ECC is working with CenterPoint to develop expanded low-income conservation programs, particularly for low-income renters.