Home energy is literally a life and death matter for Gary, a homebound senior suffering from severe emphysema and diabetes.
“I’m alive – that’s what energy assistance has done for me,” he said. “A lot of elderly people wouldn’t be alive without the help of others who care and give extra.”
Contributions to Energy Outreach Colorado make it possible for Gary and thousands of other disabled Colorado seniors to maintain the electricity they need for 24-hour oxygen supply, refrigeration, light and other basic necessities.
Gary tries to stretch his $1,019 monthly income from Medicaid and Social Security disability benefits to meet his expenses, but “sometimes it comes down to utilities or food.” That and other dangerous choices often keep limited-income families and seniors like Gary up at night, worrying about the impact of rising costs.
“I started working when I was 14,” he said, recalling his youth in eastern Colorado and college years at Metro State College, where he studied microbiology and literature. He later worked as an X-ray technician for nuclear plants; then he completed training with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to pursue affordable housing management and development.
Now 64, he rents an apartment in a Denver affordable housing community and relies on the help of his caretaker, Luis. “Denver is getting more expensive all the time,” Gary said. “The influx of people is at an unbelievable rate and costs keep going up.”
Pictured at top: Gary, right, and caregiver Luis.
Dedicated bicyclists representing Colorado’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives are pedaling and raising money Sept. 16-18 to support Energy Outreach Colorado’s work to help struggling Coloradans pay their heating bills this winter.
The Touchstone Energy Cooperatives’ team - Powering the Plains – is participating in the 5th annual three-day Pedal the Plains Bicycle Tour across northeastern Colorado. The electric co-ops also are co-sponsoring the tour, which begins and ends in Ordway and goes through Fowler and La Junta. The co-ops will have an energy education booth in each community and sponsor a $100 gift card drawing each day.
To support the Powering the Plains team’s efforts to raise funds for EOC’s affordable home energy programs, please visit for information about donating via check or PayPal. Energy Outreach Colorado thanks Powering the Plains for their amazing commitment to helping keep families and seniors warm and safe in their homes.
This article, written by freelancer Jen Kinney, is reprinted with permission from Next City, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring social, economic and environmental change in cities through journalism and events around the world.
Low-income, black, Latino and renter households all face a greater energy burden — the percentage of income spent on home energy bills — than the average family, according to a new study. Co-authored by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and The Energy Efficiency for All Coalition, the report looks at energy costs for households in the largest 48 U.S. cities.
It finds that the median U.S. energy burden across all those cities was 3.5 percent, but the median low-income household (making less than 80 percent of area median income) faced an energy burden more than twice as high: 7.2 percent. Black households experienced the second-highest energy burden (5.4 percent), followed by low-income households in multifamily buildings (5.0 percent), Latino households (4.1 percent) and renting households (4 percent).
On average, the highest burdens were concentrated in Southeast and Midwest cities. Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta and Philadelphia topped the list of cities with the highest energy burdens for low-income and minority households. Cincinnati, Columbus, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hartford, Kansas City, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Providence and St. Louis also made the top 15.
Energy inefficiency in housing stock was a large factor determining energy burden. The report found that for low-income and multifamily low-income households, bringing energy efficiency up to that of the median U.S. household would eliminate 35 percent of excess energy burden. For black, Latino and renting households, raising energy efficiency to the median could reduce burdens by 42, 68 and 97 percent, respectively.
The report, “Lifting the High Energy Burden in America’s Largest Cities,” says improving energy efficiency incentive programs for low-income and minority households provides many benefits, including improved health and safety, reduced costs associated with shutoffs and overdue bills for customers, and local job creation for communities. Currently these programs are underutilized, particularly by low-income households. The authors of the report recommend improved and expanded programs for low-income communities, better collection of demographic data on program participation, and better leverage of existing programs like the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon emissions from power plants.
The authors also recommend extending these programs to include renters, particularly those in multifamily units, not just homeowners in single-family units. Because access to capital is a significant barrier to joining these programs, allowing on-bill repayment so that all costs don’t need to be paid upfront could boost participation. The programs could also be integrated better with other incentive and rebate programs, like weatherization. Once implemented, the report says utilities should track who is participating to influence program marketing and outreach strategies.
For low-income senior and elderly Coloradans, stable rent and a secure and comfortable home are a blessing, but not a guarantee.
Energy Outreach Colorado works to extend this blessing to others by supporting the improvement and preservation of affordable housing for low-income seniors, families and people with special needs. EOC provides grants and project oversight for energy efficiency upgrades and safety and health improvements so building owners and residents can spend less on energy costs and more on other necessities.
For example, 50 residents at the Argyle Park Square Apartments – a 35-year-old affordable assisted living community in Denver -- are enjoying more stable rent and brighter, more comfortable apartments, thanks to EOC’s work to reduce annual energy costs by an estimated $9,375. The Section 8 HUD property is owned by the Ladies Relief Society of Denver and funding for the improvements was provided by EOC, the Colorado Energy Office and the U.S. Dept. of Energy.
“With the ever-rising cost of energy and being a non-profit and a Section 8 property, we seemed to be asking for a “gross rent increase” nearly every year to cover the cost,” said Property Manager Geoffrey Vannerson.
Argyle Park Square provides rental subsidies which allow residents to pay a set percentage of their income for rent while the subsidy pays the rest. To qualify, a renter must earn 50% or less of the Area Median Income. Some of the aged 62 and above renters also are disabled.
Building improvements included a new boiler and domestic hot water system, pipe insulation, and new make-air units. Each of the 50 one-bedroom rental units also was equipped with energy efficient lighting, low-flow faucet and shower heads and bathroom exhaust fans.
“As a property owner/agent, I can’t think of a better way to make improvements to modernize your property,” said Vannerson. “Working with EOC has been a pleasure and the contractors they use are very professional. Our energy savings will go to further the quality of life for our residents.”
EOC also guided Argyle’s resident leader council to engage residents in using checklists for simple energy-saving actions like turning off lights and adjusting thermostats to the most efficient temperature. These actions will help increase annual energy savings.
Pictured at left, EOC project manager Ashley Feiertag talks with contractor about new furnace; right, EOC program assistant Val Rick talks with resident about apartment lighting upgrades.
Energy Outreach Colorado's work on behalf of low-income energy consumers helps thousands of individuals and families, including residents of affordable housing communities, and dedicated non-profits that support these Coloradans.
We offer energy efficiency grants to improve buildings owned by nonprofits and affordable housing communities, as well as provide energy bill payment assistance and emergency furnace repair for low-income households. We efficiently provide these services through a statewide network of partner nonprofits, vendors, contractors and funders.
For example, our Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Program (NEEP) offers grants to install energy efficient equipment in buildings owned by nonprofits serving low-income communities. Participating organizations benefit from lower energy costs so they can allocate more of their operating budget to serve clients.
Pictured at top, Nathan Anderson from Developmental Disabilities Resource Center talks about the brighter and more efficient lighting in the therapy pool area.
Below, Brooke Pike, NEEP project manager, and Nathan show one of the new appliances installed to save on energy costs.
NEEP recently completed a project at the Developmental Disabilities Resource Center's facility in Arvada, a site that provides services such as a warm water therapy pool to individuals with special needs. The installation of new energy equipment is expected to save $12,800 annually in energy costs. Improvements include interior and exterior lighting, appliances, a boiler and heat exchanger, insulation and low-flow water aerators. Xcel Energy and EOC helped fund the $117,000 project.
"The upgraded lighting in our warm water therapy pool has received some of the best responses from our clients," said Nathan Anderson, a DDRC operations manager. "It's great because we're using less energy with fewer but more efficient and bright lights, which is a huge benefit for us."
Coloradans who are most vulnerable to summer’s sizzling temperatures -- due to lack of mobility, illness or the inability to pay their home energy bill – are getting relief from Energy Outreach Colorado’s energy bill payment assistance.
Mark M., a 53-year-old disabled diabetic from Denver, received help on his energy bill a day before his home energy was to be disconnected. He no longer had to worry about how to refrigerate his 90-day supply of insulin, or whether he could afford to turn on the evaporative cooler at night so he could sleep.
“I survive on Medicare and food stamps,” he said. “I’ve owned the same house for 27 years but it came down to keeping my truck and living in it or selling the house, so I sold my truck. I’ve been riding my bike for four years.”
For Mark and other low-income Coloradans, the heat of summer presents a health danger. If they can’t afford to pay for electricity, and aren’t able to move to a cooler location, they may suffer such illnesses as muscle cramps, heat rash, fainting and heatstroke. Seniors and children are especially vulnerable. Many also rely on electricity-dependent medical devices like oxygen concentrators.
For information about summer energy bill payment assistance, call toll-free 1-866-HEAT-HELP or go to http://www.energyoutreach.org/get-help/paying-your-energy-bill.
We’re pleased to welcome Laura Rickhoff and Hannah Lees to Energy Outreach Colorado. They are joining our mission to make energy efficiency more accessible to lower-income communities.
Laura brings a background in marketing and nonprofit administration to the position of Energy Efficiency Program Assistant. She is committed to advancing sustainable initiatives for local nonprofits and has worked with several state and city programs, including the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment’s Environmental Leadership Program and the City of Denver’s Certifiably Green Denver sustainability program. Laura holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Colorado at Boulder and is an avid endurance runner. She will ensure that our nonprofit and multi-family clients receive funding and energy efficiency upgrades so they can better serve their clients and residents. Laura works directly with contractors, organizations and utility providers to ensure projects are completed efficiently.
Hannah completed a year with AmeriCorps in Boulder before joining us as Energy Behavior Change Program Assistant. She earned a B.S. in community development and applied economics from the University of Vermont. Hannah enjoys playing the guitar, experimenting with art projects, watching documentaries and comedy and spending time outdoors. She will engage our program participants in maximizing energy savings through our education program by developing action teams, providing energy bill education and collecting data.
The Obama Administration announced this week a new multi-government effort called the Clean Energy Savings For All Initiative. It brings together the Departments of Energy (DOE), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Agriculture (USDA), Health and Human Services (HHS), Veteran’s Affairs (VA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to increase access to solar energy and promote energy efficiency across the country.
The initiative puts particular emphasis on low- and moderate- income communities, and Energy Outreach Colorado is highlighted for its programs to help bring energy efficiency and renewable energy to low-income communities. The goal of the Clean Energy Savings for All Initiative is to ensure that every household has options for choosing to go solar and to establish additional measures to promote energy efficiency.
One of the designated actions to ensure all communities have adequate information to participate in the clean energy economy is to provide resources to bring energy efficiency and renewable energy to low-income communities. The EPA is providing successful case studies to help state and local energy, environmental, housing, and social services agencies, non-profits, and utilities understand ways they bring energy efficiency and renewable energy to low-income communities. An Energy Outreach Colorado case study is one of five currently available on the Current resources available EPA’s website.
Energy Outreach Colorado’s executive director, Skip Arnold, is the 2016 recipient of the national Sister Pat Kelley Achievement Award presented by the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition.
The prestigious award is presented annually to an affordable energy advocate to recognize significant lifetime achievement in supporting low-income energy assistance and furthering energy policies regarding vulnerable households. The award honors the legacy of Sister Patricia Ann Kelley, a nun with the St. Louis Sisters of Charity order and founder of a national movement to advocate for energy assistance.
Sr. Kelly established Missouri EnergyCare after a 1980 heat wave in the Midwest led to the death of hundreds of vulnerable people. She also founded the National Fuel Funds Network to further advocate for energy assistance. That organization has since become the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC). The award was presented at its annual conference in Denver in June.
“We are thrilled to be in Denver this year where advocates such as Skip Arnold have tirelessly stood up for and worked to reduce the energy burden of vulnerable citizens,” said John Rich, NEUAC president. “Mr. Arnold first worked for Public Service Co. of Colorado, then for the past 13years as Energy Outreach Colorado’s executive director, and he exemplifies the work of Sister Pat Kelley.”
Arnold, who accepted the award on behalf of Energy Outreach Colorado’s board and staff, became director of the organization in 2003 after a distinguished career at Public Service Co. culminating in the position of Vice President of Customer Care. He is a past president of the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition and has served in numerous other state and national organizations supporting affordable energy.
Michelle M. brought a beautiful new life into the world, but then she almost lost her own.
“After I had Lucy I started feeling sick, and for two years after that I saw a lot of doctors,” Michelle explained. “They thought it was because of hormones from the pregnancy, and the blood work came back fine, so they never diagnosed anything.”
She went back to being a middle school teacher at the Adams County charter school where her husband also worked, but her “episodes” of feeling sick continued. Then she had a major seizure at home in June 2015. Medical tests uncovered a brain tumor. “As I was preparing my will and bucket list and headed into brain surgery, my husband confessed to infidelity,” she said.
Thankfully, the tumor was benign, the surgery was a complete success, and her family stood by her during her month-long hospital stay. She re-learned how to walk, write and read through six weeks of neurological rehabilitation, then tried to return to the classroom in September but had trouble keeping her balance.
With her life still in pieces, Michelle left her teaching job, hired a divorce lawyer, and established shared custody of Lucy. She survived on unemployment and Medicaid benefits while she forged a new path. She moved to an apartment but discovered her ex-husband had left behind an unpaid $700 energy bill in her name that she couldn't afford.
That worry was erased when she received energy bill payment assistance from Energy Outreach Colorado. “I’ve received lots of blessings since all of the tragedies of the past years, and nice people seem to wander in just when I need them,” she said. “I’m finding a whole new way to live. It’s working out. It’s not easy, but I like it.”
Michelle is working as a part-time summer school teacher and will be a substitute teacher this fall before hopefully returning to teaching full time. She’s also volunteering with the American Brain Tumor Association.
“I’m not one to ask for assistance but I still have lots of medical appointments and tests and I’ve learned to be okay with getting help,” she said. “I’m looking forward to speaking out and sharing my experiences to help others. I’m feeling very hopeful at this point.”
Left, Michelle with daughter Lucy. At right, Michelle with friend Jermaine, one of the many friends and family members who supported her recovery.
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