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Energy savings programs and ways to save this summer

June 6, 2018

by Genoa Barrow, California Black Media

Whether or not temperatures will hit triple digits remains to be seen, but Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has tips to keep customers from getting burned on their bills this summer.

Setting your thermostat a little higher in the summer and a little lower in the winter can save money.

The energy company’s website offers lots of warm weather advice, from using a microwave or an outside grill to cook on hot days instead of cooking in the oven to painting walls in light colors to keep rooms cooler. Small things can lead to significant savings, says PG&E Manager of Low-Income Programs and Strategies Allen Fernandez Smith.

“One of the easy ways to save is setting your thermostat,” Fernandez Smith shared.

“Set the temperature on your thermostat a little bit higher so that your air conditioner turns on maybe a degree or two higher than you’re used to, which still may be comfortable for many folks. They may not even notice it, but it can save money,” he continued.

Washing in cold water instead of hot saves customers up to $40 a year, according to PG&E. Using and switching off power strips can save someone up to $75 a year. Many appliances and devices draw power even when they’re off, so unplugging coffee makers, cell phone chargers, televisions and entertainment systems helps to avoid unnecessary energy uses. PG&E’s website also has tips for parents with children who will be out of school for the summer using more energy than a household would typically see during the week in order to entertain themselves.

California residents can also avoid higher bills by going to cooling centers that open during the summer when temperatures soar. These centers can be used as an alternative to leaving on air conditioning and fans for extended periods of hot weather. PG&E helps fund such centers throughout the state.

“That’s a really great thing that’s being used by many families,” Fernandez Smith said, adding that some centers even offer transportation.

The summer savings tips are part of the energy company’s overall effort to help customers. The company also offers different programs to those who may need extra assistance in paying their bills every month. “We’re here to support all of our customers,” Fernandez Smith said.

“We understand that California is a very diverse state and our customers are also very diverse with many different needs and we want to make sure we’re meeting their needs by providing safe, reliable, affordable clean energy,” he continued.

Tandrea and Steve Thysell, a young couple living in Stockton are already utilizing programs provided by PG&E. As a social worker and substitute teacher, the Thysells say they can use all the help they can get in keeping costs down.

“We’ve been using them for about six years. They’ve helped us tremendously, along with the balance pay program. I love that program the most,” Tandrea Thysell shared.

She’s speaking of Budget Billing, where PG&E will average out a customer’s energy cost, using their past history, so that they’ll see more manageable payments and avoid big spikes on their bills.

“CARE has helped lower our monthly bills consistently and made the payments manageable when they might be outrageous,” Mrs. Thysell said.

The couple also participates in PG&E’s Medical Baseline Program that provides extra energy at the lowest price for those with a qualifying medical condition. Both Thysells use breathing apparatuses for severe asthma.

“Medical Baseline has allowed us to keep power when others may not have had it or to be warned by text or email when we were going to be without it due to our devices.” Tandrea Thysell shared.

The CARE program, Budget Billing and Medical Baseline Program are only a few of the programs offered through PG&E. PG&E has a number of assistance programs for low-income customers including the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) Program, which gives income-qualified customers a monthly discount of at least 20 percent on their gas and electric bills.

The Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA) Program helps larger families and through the Energy Savings Assistance (ESA) program, income-qualified customers can receive free energy-efficient home improvements that can help reduce energy bills and improve health, safety and comfort. The ESA program is open to those who rent or own their homes and provides qualified customers with energy-saving improvements at no charge. If you’re on the CARE program, you’re also eligible for the ESA program because the guidelines are the same.

CARE income guidelines are increasing on June 1 to allow households that earn more money to participate and save. The guidelines are set by the California Public Utilities Commission.

With the 2018 change, the income threshold goes from $40,840 for a family of three to $41,560 and from $49,200 for a family of four to $50,200. This means more customers will be qualified to apply and receive a monthly discount.

CARE is one of PG&E’s highest satisfaction programs. An estimated 1.5 million customers are eligible and 90.5 percent of those who are eligible are taking advantage of the program’s discounts. Some 145,000 customers who are eligible have yet to enroll.

PG&E has a Communities of Color Initiative and works with a network of community-based organizations and faith-based leaders to spread the word and encourage customers who are eligible to apply for the saving programs.

“It’s a two-way street. Part of it is us being able to provide these organizations and leaders with tools and tips so that they can share with their communities, but also it’s for us to get feedback from them,” Fernandez Smith said.

“Are the messages that we’re putting out there, can people understand them? Are they in the languages that are necessary? Are they (done) in a way where they’re culturally relevant to these communities? We want to hear directly from our customers on how we can better serve them,” Fernandez Smith shared.

Online resources include www.pge.com/saveenergymoney and www.pge.com/coolingcenters.

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