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.
As part of your Fourth of July activities, challenge your family to “beat the heat” and save money on your energy bill. Provide them with this check list of low-cost energy saving tips and once they’ve completed it, celebrate with popsicles all around!
- Cooking, lighting and using other appliances account for about 30 percent of your home’s energy bill, so using them less saves you money. To cut down on the use of your hot over, get creative and try out some new recipes.
- Switch out incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). About 90 percent of the energy used by incandescent bulbs is released in the form of heat, so replacing them with CFLs is cooler. Look for areas where a small lamp can be used instead of a room light and make sure lights are off when not needed.
- Running the dishwasher and dryer also generates heat. Try operating them only at night and when they are full, and skip the heated drying option on your dishwasher.
- Another heat producer is your refrigerator. Move it away from the wall and vacuum the condenser coils. If you have more than one refrigerator or freezer, consolidate if you can and unplug any unnecessary appliances.
- If you need to replace a home appliance, choose the most efficient unit available. An Energy Star® label means it uses at least 10 percent less energy than required by current federal standards.
- Inspect the filters on your furnace and air conditioner to see if they need to be replaced. Write a reminder to change filters every three months.
- Check your home thermostat. If you have an air conditioner, set the temperature to about 78 degrees. Better yet, install a programmable thermostat to do the work for you.
- The windows in your main living areas are the largest source of heat gain in your home. During the day keep them shut and window coverings closed. In the evening, open windows and window coverings to let in cooling breezes.
- Summer heat also enters your home through leaks around walls, windows and doors. Repair any damaged or loose caulking and weather stripping. Pay special attention to plumbing outlets, vents and recessed light fixtures.
A steady job. A car. A house. These are the things Lonzo V. dreamed about growing up in Oklahoma. He started working at age 8, cutting weeds. When his family of nine moved to Colorado for better opportunities, he found a job at a vet supply warehouse and worked his way up over the next 17 years, often putting in 80-hour weeks for the overtime.
Lonzo lived his dream for 30 years, until his body wore down from the years of lifting, stairs and ladders. He developed occupational asthma from the long-term exposure to chemicals at the warehouse. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and suffered lasting consequences from surgery. And, at age 57 he had knee replacement surgery but something went terribly wrong. After a series of X-rays and MRIs, he discovered the wrong-sized replacement had been used and he had to have another surgery to correct it. Again, his leg became swollen “foot to hip” and another doctor told him the second procedure hadn’t been done properly.
After two years of debilitating pain, he could no longer work and the medical bills piled up. “All I dreamed about got shattered,” he said. “It was a nightmare.”
Lonzo’s sister helped him as much as she could with his house payments and he got additional assistance from Denver Urban Matters (DENUM). A caseworker helped him apply for unemployment, disability benefits and energy assistance funding from Energy Outreach Colorado, and his overdue home energy bill recently was paid off.
“I was so happy because there was no way I could catch up, being on a fixed income now,” he said. “I would have been cold. It was a gift from God and I am thankful and really appreciate it.”
Lonzo’s dream these days is to resolve his health issues. “I want to get back to the way it used to be,” he said.
Energy assistance helped hardworking Lonzo cope with medical and financial hardship.
Energy Outreach Colorado's ongoing work to support affordable home energy for Coloradans has earned it an impressive place on Charity Navigator's national list of "10 Charities with the Most Consecutive 4-Star Ratings."
EOC is the only nonprofit in the West to make the list. Charity Navigator, an independent evaluator of thousands of American charities, ranked Energy Outreach Colorado third in the nation as a non-profit organization that demonstrates ongoing fiscal excellence and is "well-positioned to pursue and achieve long-term change." EOC has received 14 consecutive 4-star ratings from Charity Navigator.
"We are fortunate to have many generous supporters who believe in our mission and make it possible for us to do this important work," said Skip Arnold, EOC's executive director. He added, "Ensuring that families and seniors across all income-levels can afford energy for their homes is a complex and critical mission and we're dedicated to continuously finding better ways to achieve this."
Energy Outreach Colorado’s Homeless to Home program provides limited-income families and individuals the ability to move into permanent housing by paying off utility bills from previous residences that prevented them from establishing utility service in their new homes. The program also helps clients avoid eviction by providing energy assistance to households that have experienced homelessness within the past 6 months.
This story, re-printed with the permission of reporter Sarah Grasmick at The Pueblo Chieftain, details the story of a Pueblo grandmother who has been helped through Homeless to Home.
A grandmother who is unable to work due to kidney failure struggles is unable to pay for basic necessities for herself and her two grandchildren she is raising.
Mary Obley, 64, has experienced adversity for years. Her husband died of a heart attack while their children were young; she lost a baby; is on dialysis three times a week; and receives some of her food from food banks.
“I got into these situations not because I wanted to,” Obley said. “They just happened.”
An old energy bill she wasn’t able to pay came close to worsening her struggles. If the bill was left unpaid, she wouldn’t have the opportunity to move into public housing.
Obley wanted her own residence to raise her preteen granddaughters, so she searched for help — and found it.
“She turned to Catholic Charities of Pueblo, which partners with Energy Outreach Colorado to provide energy bill payment assistance, and was enrolled in EOC’s Homeless to Home program,” indicated a press release from EOC. “Through the program, Mary’s debt was paid and she’ll receive extensive case management, including budgeting and other resource support for six months as she becomes self-sufficient.”
This type of support can be life changing for people who are struggling financially, said Brittany Taylor, Catholic Charities case manager.
“Sometimes this kind of assistance is the only way for someone to get back on solid ground and break the cycle of poverty,” she said.
Obley said the nonprofits took away a massive burden. “I will always be grateful for them for helping me,” she said.
Brittany Taylor, left, Catholic Charities case manager, works with Mary on paperwork.
Financial assistance isn’t the only way to help limited-income Coloradans afford home energy. Energy Outreach Colorado also is encouraging residents to lower their energy bills through energy education and energy-saving actions.
EOC and Xcel Energy are partnering to study the impact of providing broader support to Xcel Energy customers who apply for EOC energy bill payment assistance. This approach potentially will reduce these customers’ future need for energy bill payment assistance, increase their ability to effectively manage home energy costs and lower the overall energy demand in Colorado.
“Through past experience we’ve seen households get excited about lowering their bills and conserving energy after learning more about simple changes they can make at home,” said Nicole O’Connor, manager of EOC’s Energy Behavior Change Program. “We want to share these benefits with as many Coloradans as we can.”
EOC works with a statewide network of assistance organizations to distribute its energy assistance funding, and case managers at some of those agencies are being trained to provide energy-conservation information along with bill payment assistance. Recipients also pledge to carry out certain actions in their homes, such as turning off a power strip when not using appliances, and also sign-up for additional opportunities such as in-home installation of low-cost energy improvements and incentives for reaching goals.
In cases where more extensive energy improvements are needed, customers will be referred for free home services including furnace repair and weatherization improvements.
The program is funded by Xcel Energy and is initially being implemented in Grand Junction, Alamosa and the Denver metro area.
Energy Outreach staff playing Energy Bingo,top, and meeting with residents in their home, above,to encourage energy conservation.
Residents pledge to save energy through behaviors such as
unplugginig unused appliances.
Think you are an energy whiz? Looking for new ways to lower your monthly energy bill? Take our eight- question Energy Quiz! You’ll learn simple ways to use energy more wisely and replace energy-guzzling appliances around your house or apartment. Share with your friends to see how you match up. For more great energy saving tips, sign up for our bi-monthly e-newsletter. You’ll also have access to tons of energy-related facts, EOC stories from the field and insight into the clients we serve.
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