Low-income Utility Payment Assistance Contributions
Section 1 of the act authorizes the department of human services (department) to make fuel assistance payments to supplemental nutrition assistance program recipients to maximize their federal heating and cooling standard utility allowance. Money for the fuel assistance payments comes from a portion of the money collected from the energy assistance system benefit charge (charge), which is a monthly charge that investor-owned electric and gas utilities are required to collect from their customers. Money for the fuel assistance payments is credited to the supplemental utility assistance fund, which fund is continuously appropriated to the department.
Section 2 removes the low-income energy assistance program administered by Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC) from the grant program reserve funded by tier 2 severance tax operational fund money.
Section 3 clarifies that the definition of a "low-income utility customer", with regard to the public utilities commission's (PUC) consideration of a preference or advantage that a gas or electric utility grants a low-income utility customer, means a utility customer who meets the department's income eligibility criteria.
Sections 4 and 5 make modifications to the legislative commission on low-income energy assistance, wherein section 4 expands the commission's scope to include water utility assistance and section 5 reduces the composition of the commission from 11 members to 7 members. Section 5 moves the commission from the department to the Colorado energy office (office) on May 1, 2022. Section 5 also requires the commission to:
- Advise the office on grants awarded from the federal department of energy regarding the office's weatherization assistance program;
- Advise water utilities that provide their customers with utility assistance and efficiency programs; and
- Review EOC's annual budget that it submits to the PUC regarding the use of funding for utility bill payment assistance.
Section 6 updates the legislative declaration regarding low-income energy assistance with regard to the benefit of allowing all water utilities to participate voluntarily in a program to provide financial assistance to customers in low-income households.
Sections 7, 8, and 10 to 12 concern the creation of the charge. From October 2021 through September 2022, the initial amount of the charge per customer is 50 cents for electric service provided and 50 cents for natural gas service provided, and, after September 2022, each is raised to 75 cents. Commencing October 1, 2023, the charge is adjusted for inflation. Investor-owned utilities are required to remit the charges collected to EOC to help finance low-income energy assistance programs. Additionally, each investor-owned utility is required to notify customers of:
- The possibility of exemption from paying the charge for a period of 12 months based on having received direct utility bill payment assistance from EOC in the previous 12 months; and
- Contact information for opting out of paying the monthly charge.
EOC is required to allocate a portion of the money collected from the charge to the department for its fuel assistance payments and use another portion for EOC's community outreach about the charge, with the remainder of the money collected split between EOC and the office for helping to finance their energy assistance programs.
Sections 9 and 13 concern voluntary, opt-in charges that a water utility may offer its customers to help finance the water utility bill payment assistance program that EOC administers. Alternatively, a water utility may implement its own water utility bill payment assistance program.
Section 14 requires EOC and the office, when installing energy retrofits for low-income households, to prioritize customer savings, emission reductions, and improving indoor air quality.
Section 15 governs reporting requirements for EOC and the office regarding use of the money collected from the charge and, for EOC, additional reporting requirements on voluntary, opt-in monthly water utility bill payment assistance collections.
(Note: This summary applies to this bill as enacted.)