For the second time in three years, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission will hold a workshop to delve deeper into electric utility energy affordability and energy efficiency education issues, particularly as they relate to low-income and fixed-income utility customers who are struggling to pay their power bills.

This is great news if the workshops lead to improvements in the delivery of these important services to those who need them the most.

“Idaho Power Company, Avista Utilities, and Rocky Mountain Power offer low-income weatherization programs and energy conservation programs,” the PUC said in a recent order scheduling the workshop. “In recent rate cases, questions surfaced about how to best determine each utility’s appropriate level of program funding. In particular, concerns arose about how such programs are to be accurately assessed for cost-effectiveness and overall customer need.”

Utility commissioners had already issued orders directing the utilities to participate in workshops to explore these issues, and the recent order opens an investigation and schedules the workshop.

“The purpose of the workshop is for the utilities, interested persons, and Commission staff to explore in greater detail issues related to the funding, implementation, and evaluation of utility low-income weatherization and energy conservation programs.”

The workshop will begin at 10 am Monday, March 19, and at 9 am Tuesday, March 20, in the PUC headquarters hearing room at 472 West Washington Street in Boise. The public is invited to participate. Among the areas of interest to the PUC: How should the PUC determine the need for assistance programs for customers? Should it be based on poverty rates or unemployment rates or the number of homes needing weatherization? Or the waiting lists at the community action partnership (CAP) agencies that help with weatherization of homes? The PUC also wants to explore how to measure the “cost-effectiveness” of a utility’s low-income weatherization and education programs, such as how utilities measure energy savings or what kinds of oversight utilities might provide to CAP agencies.

After the March workshop, PUC staff will prepare a report on its findings and recommendations, after which the Commission will determine what next steps are needed.

The PUC opened a case in September 2008 to explore many similar issues. In that case, two workshops were held “to identify issues and discuss solutions pertaining to energy affordability and customers’ ability to pay energy bills.” Several groups and individuals, including the Snake River Alliance, participated in those workshops and submitted comments on how the PUC and the state might address energy affordability challenges, particularly for those on fixed incomes.

“It is the Commission’s desire that the dialogue begun by the affordability workshops continue as well as all parties work together in removing the barriers to affordable energy Idaho,” the Commission wrote in 2009 at the end of that process. While that case drew a lot of attention, many of the good ideas contained in the PUC’s energy affordability report unfortunately have not been implemented. One example is the PUC’s recommendation that the Legislature push for policies to assist low-income and fixed-income utility customers with their rising bills. While legislation has been proposed, it has never been enacted.

To follow the weatherization and efficiency education docket at the PUC, go to and then click “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scroll down to GNR-E-12-01. You can also review the PUC’s report from its 2008-2009 workshop on energy affordability issues in Idaho by going to the PUC’s website and then going to “File Room” and “Closed Cases” and then scrolling to GNR-U-08-01.