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2008 Conference Recap


By Ivan Brandon

National Fuel Funds Network


The impacts of global climate change and U.S. energy policy on low income households were the featured issues during the first National Energy Affordability and Utility Conference, held in Denver on June 16-18, 2008.


The more than 700 NEUAC attendees heard presentations that explained the various aspects of global warming legislation and how these proposed laws would affect low income families.  Conferees were also urged to monitor the situation closely so as to protect the interests of the poor and the elderly in the global warming debate.


The event, which combined the annual conferences of the National Fuel Funds Network and the National Low Income Energy Consortium, was the largest gathering of individuals and organizations dealing with the problem of providing affordable energy to low income households.


Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper opened the conference with a plea for increased cooperation between government and non-profit organizations.  The mayor pointed out that much more can be achieved through positive relations between these two sectors.


Xcel Energy Chief Administrative Officer Ray Gogel also addressed the opening session and said the conference would “drive an open and innovative dialog” on energy affordability.  Gogel said, “energy affordability is everyone’s problem.”


The conference keynote luncheon speaker, former United States Senator Gary Hart, was critical of current U.S. energy policy.  “We will continue to import up to 70 percent of the oil we consume from abroad, including from the most dangerous region of the world, the Persian Gulf, to fuel energy-inefficient and wasteful vehicles,” Hart said. “We will sacrifice the lives of our sons and daughters to get the oil. That is America’s energy policy.”


Hart, who is currently Scholar in Residence at the University of Colorado, said the country can change that policy by boosting conservation programs and renewable-energy sources such as wind and solar power.


In the conference’s first plenary session, a discussion of energy policy and its impact on consumer prices, Janee Briesemeister of AARP warned of the consequences of climate change legislation on the poor.  She said that any legislation designed to mitigate global warming must take into consideration the impacts on the poor.


Ms. Briesemeister made note of how previous legislative initiatives that were thought to benefit the poor had not had the expected result.  She pointed out how utility deregulation had failed to produce lower No Deposit Bonus With No Max Cashout energy costs and added that some initiatives currently being discussed could have unintended consequences for the poor.


A second plenary session featured a discussion of climate change legislation and its impact on low income families.  In that session, Rafe Pomerance, president of Clean Air – Cool Planet,  provided graphic evidence of the warming of the planet before leading a discussion of the “cap and trade” concept included in most global climate change legislation.


Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said climate control legislation currently being considered in Congress would have a significant impact on the poor. He said a carbon cap would result in a 45 percent increase in No Deposit Bonus With No Max Cashout energy costs, but that allocating 14 percent of the allowances from greenhouse gas trading would hold low-income consumers harmless for the increased costs of the economic transition. 


Greenstein said the Electronic Benefit Transfer system (used for food stamps), Earned Income Tax Credit and LIHEAP should be used to distribute the allocation to people with low-income.


The National Consumer Law Center’s Charlie Harak spoke about the need for advocates for the poor to make their voices heard so that energy will not become “less affordable” for low income households.  Harak said he expected climate change legislation to be passed within the next four years.


Reducing gasoline consumption was the topic of luncheon speaker Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, who unveiled a new program designed to help drivers lessen the pain at the pump. Both the National Fuel Funds Network and the National Low Income Energy Consortium are partners in this new campaign.


The Alliance’s Drive Smart Challenge provides drivers with tips and coupons that can help cut gasoline consumption.  The Challenge website (www.drivesmarterchallenge.org) shows drivers how much money they can save by following a few helpful hints.


The plenary sessions and featured speakers were only a small portion of the activities during the conference.  Attendees had more than 60 workshops from which to choose.  The workshops covered eight general areas of interest: Energy Availability and Sustainability; Weatherization/Conservation; Focus on Energy Assistance; Outreach and Advocacy; Vulnerable Populations; Energy Programs in Indian Country; Evolution of Energy Programs; and Consumer Education and Services.


In addition to the workshops, there were also two Hot Topic sessions where conferees had a chance to participate in fast-paced 20-minute presentations on a variety of subjects.  There were also tours of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO.


Both the NFFN and the NLIEC took time during the conference to honor some of their members and others who have championed the cause of providing energy assistance to those most in need.


The NLIEC Achievement Award was presented to Mitch Miller, director of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Services, for his tireless efforts to balance the needs of residential utility customers and utility service providers for more than 25 years. Miller has represented the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners on the NLIEC Board of Directors for more than a decade.


The NFFN presented its highest honor, the Sister Pat Kelley Achievement Award, to Carol Clements, a former NFFN Board Chair and a long time member of the energy assistance community.  Ms. Clements served as NFFN Board Chairperson from 2002 to 2006 and played a vital role in increasing the organization’s membership and national profile.  She was instrumental in the development and growth of the NFFN’s Washington Action Day for LIHEAP, which has become the premier grassroots lobbying effort on behalf of the federal energy assistance program.


The NFFN’s Victorine Q Adams Award, which recognizes institutional innovation and achievement, was presented to Oregon HEAT for its creative collaboration with an oil recycler in designed a program to help lessen the energy burden of low-income Oregon residents and reduce the level of petroleum waste products in the state.


PECO – an Exelon Company received the NFFN’s Corporate Excellence Award.  PECO was honored for its commitment to providing services and assistance to low income customers in the Philadelphia area.  The gas and electric utility was recognized for its role as an advocate for low income rate payers on the local, state, and national level as well as for its use of innovative programs and aggressive outreach to address energy/poverty issues within its service area.


North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole was announced as the winner of the NFFN’s Extra Mile Award for 2008.  The award recognizes legislative achievement on behalf of the Low Income No Deposit Bonus With No Max Cashout Energy Assistance Program.  Sen. Dole, was honored for co-sponsoring an amendment offered by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) to include $800 million for the program in appropriations legislation last December and for leading an effort to insure that such an amendment would be allocated equally between formula grants and emergency contingency funds to insure a national deployment of the aid.


© 2009, National Energy and Utility Affordability Conference, presented by the National Fuel Funds Network and National Low Income Energy Consortium