By Margaret Cook, PhD., Research Associate; Gavin Dillingham, PhD, Program Director; and Meredith Jennings, PhD, Research Associate
Affordable, clean energy will be a driving force in our transition to a low carbon future. We already have many ways to get clean energy in our homes from our roofs to shared solar to our energy bills. Millions of Texans in the state’s competitive electricity market choose their own power provider, and today have multiple choices to get 100% clean energy from their provider to their homes without any extra work. However, the structure of the competitive electric market today means that low-income Texans often pay unnecessarily high energy costs for no added benefit.
We believe a more equitable clean energy ecosystem that engages and meets needs of residents of all income levels is possible. The U.S. Department of Energy funded Powered for Good research project was developed to address inequity in the market and determine a solution that could bring affordable clean energy to all Texans regardless of their income. As part of the project, we facilitated the development of a company, Energy Well Texas to put our solution into practice.
The Powered for Good team has also developed educational resources to help Texans better understand their electricity bills, how they use energy, and how to get access to clean energy today. The Go Green, Save Green Energy Guide for Texans and factsheets are quick, free resources available now to help residents learn more about energy and save money today.
The Electricity Bill Analysis Toolbox is an interactive way to understand your electricity bill and the types of plans that could be best for your household. In the competitive electricity market in Texas, there are many choices of electricity providers, many of which flash extra gimmicks to draw in new customers.
Discounts for using a lot of power!
Discounts for using a lot of power, but not too much!
It can be confusing to navigate the hundreds of plans on the state’s official electric choice website, www.PowertoChoose.com.
With the Electricity Bill Analysis Toolbox, residents can find out if they might be paying too much for electricity, guess the type of plan that will best fit a household like theirs, and then make adjustments to find out the best type of electricity plan for their household. Try out the Toolbox for yourself.
As we transition to cleaner energy as a country, it is important that we ensure that all residents can access these resources. However, solar deployment has generally benefitted higher income individuals. Providing access to solar (and other renewables) through retail electric plans can reach more individuals through regular electricity service, but even this method carries inequities. The average Texan spends about 2% of their income on energy while low-income Texans (earning 30% or less of area median income) spend about 15% of their income on energy.
Powered for Good was developed with the intent of combating this inequity, increasing access to clean energy, and addressing low-income residents’ electricity concerns. To do so, we aimed to learn what residents needed to power their lives. In a survey team members conducted in 2020, residents, particularly people of color, lower-income individuals, and households with five or more residents, shared worries about their ability to pay their electricity bills. Additionally, about two-thirds of respondents expressed interest in switching from their electricity provider to a 100% renewable electricity plan and over half of residents shared an interested in being a member-owner, having stake in the company that provides their electricity.
In addition, to cost concerns, almost two-thirds of residents reported that they experienced power outages that lasted more than a few minutes. Many experienced multiple outages. Most residents were concerned about losing heat or air conditioning and food spoiling. A large majority of residents surveyed were interested in a retail electric plan that includes a home battery system and neighborhood-based emergency back-up power to prevent these issues.
Informed by these experiences, as well as wisdom from electricity system experts, the Powered for Good team developed a pilot that was implemented by Energy Well Texas. The pilot featured a combination of a 100% clean residential energy offering delivered through the electrical grid plus a selection of batteries, lights and a solar panel that provided participants with varying levels of backup power. The timing was fortuitous for one household: during winter storm Uri in early 2021, critical lighting, communication and cooking-related power needs were met, and neighbors were also assisted with the pilot’s solar+storage equipment. In August, NPR’s Marketplace produced a radio newscast on the pilot, and there are now more than 100 households on the waiting list to receive similar services. The Powered for Good and Energy Well Texas teams are currently planning their post-pilot phase of service offerings.
To learn more about the Powered for Good research initiative and the launch of Energy Well Texas, join experts Gavin Dillingham (HARC), Catherine Garcia Flowers and Greg Rosen (Energy Well Texas), and Joey Romano (Moonlight Interests) for an instructional webinar on November 18, 2021 at 12pm. 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.