By Margaret Cook, PhD, Research Associate, Energy, Water, Climate Nexus
Millions of Texans choose their own power provider, giving them the option to have low-cost and even renewable energy delivered through their retail electric plan. However, Texans with less disposable income often pay more for electricity and have limited access to green energy and emergency backup power even though the costs of solar and wind power are at record lows and continue to decline.
The Powered for Good initiative aims to help deliver clean, affordable, 100% renewable electricity to low-income households in Texas’s Competitive Retail Areas, where households can choose their electricity provider. The team has piloted a low-cost retail electric product, developed educational materials, and is now working to increase power resilience and reduce energy insecurity with solar and storage.
Powered for Good Successes So Far
Last year, we piloted Energy Well Texas, a renewable retail electricity provider that did just that. Pilot participants received low-cost renewable energy and micro-solar+storage units—assets that were very helpful during the power outages caused by Winter Storm Uri. Energy Well Texas aims to be a community-owned product and is on its way to becoming a retail electric product available to all Texans. The Powered for Good team also produced energy education materials for residents to understand their energy bill and access other renewable energy solutions. With this initial momentum, the Powered for Good team has continued to push for increased access to solar+storage throughout the Houston area.
Providing Resilience with Powered for Good
HARC and Energy Well Texas facilitated delivery of 350 Generark micro-solar+storage units to Harris County. HARC assisted Harris County Long-term Recovery Committee by developing a fact sheet showing how to use the battery storage and two solar panels and keep them safe. HARC also developed an application to help residents decide which devices they can power and for how long. The HCLTRC is planning to deliver units to nonprofits in the area who already work on emergency response and disaster recovery. The micro solar+storage units will supplement the good work these organizations already do.
Shelter and Hope in Neighborhood Emergencies
HARC has partnered with the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience (CEER) to share information about clean energy options with low-income residents in northeast Houston through Powered for Good. CEER’s Climate Ambassadors lead efforts to educate themselves and their friends and neighbors. They have also pushed for more renewable energy in their neighborhood. Through this partnership with CEER and the Climate Ambassadors, they have begun to work on new initiatives to bring clean energy to northeast Houston residents. One initiative—Shelter and Hope in Neighborhood Emergencies (SHINE)—aims to bring solar and storage to Houston’s Fifth Ward through a resilience shelter. Climate Ambassadors know from personal experience how difficult it is to need shelter during emergencies in their area. CEER, HARC, and the Faith Revitalization Center, a nonprofit based in Houston’s Fifth Ward, are developing plans for residents to be able to seek shelter during extreme events at FRC’s multi-purpose center. Onsite solar will also lower FRC’s operating costs, helping it provide additional services to the Fifth Ward community. Currently FRC provides computing classes for adults—including CEER’s climate ambassadors, tutoring for youth, and food and financial assistance for neighbors in need. HARC provided initial technical assistance to evaluate the center’s potential for onsite solar, battery storage, and a diesel generator. EnergySage helped connect the team to reputable solar installers in the area, compare their solar and storage quotes, and discover funding opportunities to develop the project.
Working with Residents to Reduce Energy Burden & Insecurity
Northeast Houston residents and Climate Ambassadors have also shared their stories of energy insecurity and pushed for a program that could help with this problem. HARC, CEER, and FRC are working on a second initiative to reduce energy burden and insecurity by assisting residents on prepaid electricity plans. Many low-income residents are barred from traditional monthly (post-pay) electricity plans because they don’t have the bill pay history or credit to waive a deposit and don’t have funds to pay one. They are instead pushed into prepaid electricity plans where households could be paying hundreds or thousands more per year. Additionally, due to the nature of prepaid plans, energy supply is insecure. While monthly post-pay plans only bill once a month and might have payment grace periods, residents on prepaid plans are at risk of losing electricity in their home as soon as their account balance runs too low.
CEER, FRC, and HARC, in partnership with Octopus Energy, aim to pilot a transition to post-pay electricity plans. Octopus Energy, a retail electric provider supplying renewable energy in Texas’s competitive electricity market, has recently begun to offer a prepaid plan at the same cost as their post-pay product. HARC built an application to help residents determine if they will save money switching to Octopus’s prepaid plan. Residents would build bill pay history in the pilot and, after doing so, could choose to transition to Octopus’s post-pay plan at the same rate but with monthly billing and less risk of shut-off. HARC and CEER will evaluate the program efficacy and share findings that can help in decreasing energy burden and energy insecurity across Texas. The team is recruiting participants now.
To learn more about the Powered for Good research initiative, join experts Gavin Dillingham and Margaret Cook (HARC) for an instructional webinar on April 20, 2022 at 11am. Register here.
Powered for Good is a research collaboration between HARC, High Noon Advisors, Moonlight Interests, and the Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute (TEPRI) that seeks to explore, develop, and accelerate accessible clean energy initiatives in the deregulated electricity market in Texas. This research is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) under the Solar Energy Technologies Office Award Number DE-EE0009007 as well as the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation.