Efficiency Vermont’s Low-Income Program: Conclusion
The conclusion to Efficiency Vermont’s Low-Income Program series
By: By Lauren Wentz, Elizabeth Palchak, Robert Stephenson, and Emily Levin
Efficiency Vermont’s Targeted High Use (THU) program provides direct installation of electric-saving products and appliances, including refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, dehumidifiers, heat pumps, and heat pump water heaters, to qualifying households with high electricity usage. Through an annual direct mail outreach campaign, Efficiency Vermont historically promoted its THU program to customers who were likely to be income-eligible and were confirmed through available utility data to have used at least 10,000 kwh/year, a high level of electricity usage for residential customers in Vermont.
But in 2019, Efficiency Vermont elected to shift to its tactic in order to reach more eligible customers who were excluded from prior mailing lists due to unconfirmed utility account data. They sent a mailing to 50,000 known low-income customers across the state, and while 68% of people called in response, most of the customers failed to qualify because they did not meet the program’s high electric usage requirement. Unsurprisingly, customer feedback was overwhelmingly negative after receiving this information, leading to a substantial reduction in customer satisfaction.
Efficiency Vermont responded to this feedback and redesigned the THU program by addressing three dimensions of equity: including representative voices in program design and delivery, defining target populations, and determining disparate impacts of programs.
This is the final article, a conclusion of this series. You can read previous articles on including representative voices here, about defining target populations here, and about determining disparate impacts here.
Efficiency Vermont’s experience illustrates how a proactive focus on equity, such as the three specific dimensions identified by the VEIC research team, can support the design and evaluation of energy efficiency programs that are more responsive to the needs of people classified as low-income. By including representative voices in program design, analyzing this feedback with an equity-lens and taking customer feedback seriously, Efficiency Vermont was able to develop a new Appliance Replacement Voucher program that expanded access to more customers in need.
By clearly defining target populations based on energy burden, informed by both household-level and town-level analysis, Efficiency Vermont redesigned its THU program to qualify customers based on electric energy burden rather than electricity usage. This enabled the program to better serve the households with the greatest need. Ongoing analysis of program impacts helps Efficiency Vermont determine whether its programs are resulting in disparate outcomes among low-income customers or whether they are equitably serving low-income customers.
The analysis has supported Efficiency Vermont’s efforts to shift program investments over time in a more equitable direction. However, because targeted low-income programs usually require higher incentives than other efficiency programs, program investment would need to exceed a proportional level in order to achieve equitable savings outcomes. Program administrators and regulators will need to consider the optimal balance between energy savings and equity goals when designing energy efficiency policies and portfolios.
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