The Energy Law Journal has recently published an article by Adrienne Thompson on low-income ratepayer protection issues. The article will be in print soon and is available electronically here.
From distributed energy resources to smart meters, we are witnessing one of the most significant economic and physical transitions in the history of our electricity sector. As utilities, regulators, and stakeholders grapple with transforming our aging grid, one under-examined issue is how these changes will impact low-income ratepayers. Specifically: as reformers begin to align utility pricing structures with true system costs, what will happen to the rate-based subsidies helping to provide electricity to these financially vulnerable consumers? With millions of Americans otherwise unable to afford utility service, the answer to that question has real-world implications. This article analyzes the intersection of grid modernization efforts and low-income ratepayer assistance programs. It discusses the unique problems facing low-income customers, and explores norms like “universal service” that underpin utility regulation in general, and ratepayer assistance in particular. Ultimately, this article proposes policy solutions to facilitate the goals of both grid modernization and low-income ratepayer assistance. Only by tackling this issue head-on can policymakers ensure that tomorrow’s energy future will look bright for all ratepayers—regardless of their income.