More than 600,000 customers in three states rely on Avista for the electricity and natural gas that brings energy to their lives and livelihoods. One of the challenging aspects of the utility business is to collect on bills from those least able to pay. In the past two years, this challenge has broadened with the serious economic impact the national recession has had on residents and businesses in our service territory. Federal energy assistance for those in need is supplemented with Avista’s Low Income Rate Assistance Program (LIRAP) and Project Share, an emergency energy assistance program funded through Avista, its employees and customer donations. A 2009 study revealed that an estimated 30 percent of eligible low income households received energy assistance grants, significantly higher than the national average of 16 percent.
These are real results. But one-time, annual grants alone are not long-term solutions to the challenges faced by those living on limited incomes.
In 2010, Avista initiated and hosted two Energy Fairs—one in Spokane, Washington, and one in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The fairs provided information and demonstrations on energy assistance, energy efficiency and home weatherization to limited income families and senior citizens. But the fairs went beyond the business focus of helping customers pay their utility bill. They provided an opportunity for attendees to learn about employment opportunities, earned income tax credits, child care options, community college offerings and other community resources. Nearly 700 people attended the two fairs.
The Energy Fairs built value for both Avista and our limited income and senior customers—providing a convenient and easy-to-use environment for customers to learn about billing options and energy assistance, while offering them tips and tools to use to help manage their limited financial resources.
By helping people manage their energy use and energy payments, we help them spend less and increase their financial stability, while improving the productive use of energy resources for everyone.