Energy Prices Require Long-Term Solutions
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
August 7, 2008

Some young friends of ours recently rented an apartment. To their surprise, the first monthly energy bill was $600.00, nearly the equivalent to the rent itself. Thankfully an understanding landlord allowed them out of their lease. He probably just assumed that anyone moving into the apartment would be able to afford the utility bill!

At the County, this week an informal and fairly impromptu gathering of energy-related managers from several agencies gathered to address a challenge in our community confronting us: low income energy assistance. According to the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance, "Since two-thirds of the families receiving Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assistance have incomes of less than $8,000 a year, the program clearly helps the people who need help the most." With five months of the year remaining, the County has expended all monies budgeted for 2008. Our Community Investment manager intends to request an additional grant from the State of $500,000.00. The State may deny the request.

On the one hand I believe we should be sensitive to citizens of limited circumstance. On the other, we should set high standards for the operation of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by partnering with recipients rather than merely qualifying them for eligibility. This partnership should reflect reciprocity.

In return for assistance at least in all but the most meager of circumstances should be an expectation that the energy assistance is being provided to a person or family that is partnering with us toward the most efficient and conserving use of energy. This over time would somewhat diminish the 75% of those being helped who have already been helped by this program before. Even addressing the lowest of the low income residents, certain approaches can and should be fundamental so that we most effectively spread the money necessary to run this program.

To both conserve money and make this initiative more effective, fundamental approaches should divert some of the energy assistance to conservation, efficiency, renewable energy applications and energy consumer education. But this requires innovation, innovation I might add that is long overdue. I look forward to keeping you posted.

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