Since expanding its EnergyShare program in 2015, Dominion Energy Virginia has helped 35,000 people pay their heating and electric bills and has weatherized 18,800 homes. In addition, the utility has hosted 700 outreach events to share practical, energy-saving tips that enabled participants to reduce energy usage by 7.5% on average.
Those were some of the figures batted around today in an event Dominion hosted to thank its EnergyShare partners, including the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg, the Salvation Army, and nearly 100 social services departments across Virginia.
As part of a legislative deal that froze utilities’ electric rates and declared an increase in solar energy to be in the public interest, Dominion committed an additional $42 million over five years — the money comes from shareholders, employees, and individual donors — to expand the program that had been in existence since 1982.
Energy Share is “one of those things that our state offers that other states don’t offer,” bragged an enthusiastic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who has participated in two previous annual Energy Share events. And that’s not just McAuliffe hyperbole. While other states do run energy assistance programs, none is as comprehensive as Virginia’s, which couples weatherization with emergency aid as well as initiatives targeting homeless veterans and the disabled.
The Commonwealth of Virginia provides a means-tested energy assistance program for low-income residents. But that doesn’t cover everyone in need, Boxley Kortni, a Hanover County social services case worker, explained to Bacon’s Rebellion. Hardly a day passes without someone approaching social services for assistance. They’re typically poor or working poor, and they’ve had an emergency — big medical bills, or they were ill and couldn’t work, or their car broke down and they couldn’t get to work.
Kortni cited the recent case of a woman who stayed in the hospital while her young son recovered from surgery. Her job offered no vacation or time off, so she didn’t get paid. Many people live paycheck to paycheck, and this woman was no exception, and she failed to pay her electric bill. And because she worked, she made too much money to qualify for state assistance.
EnergyShare assistance is not limited to covering electric bills. It can be given to anyone who heats a home with fuel oil, kerosene or wood. Dominion provides the money, budgeting $8.8 million this year. In Central Virginia, United Way strokes the checks, and local social services case workers identify the recipients.
The private program is more flexible than the state program, and case workers have some latitude in how it is administered. Donna Latta, who works for King & Queen County, says she looks at the client’s case history to be sure they are experiencing a genuine emergency and aren’t routinely skipping payments. Say a client owes $500, she says. EnergyShare can pay up to $600, but she likes to see the client chip in a little of his or her own money. She also is wary of clients who come back over and over, which indicates that they aren’t dealing with an emergency but a chronic problem. “People have to take responsibility,” she says.