November 15, 2022
Help with energy bills is available, but more promotion needed
What dollar amount makes it worthwhile for a household to apply for heating and electric bill payment assistance? According to a recent study, that amount is $612. In a remarkable coincidence, $612 is the exact average statewide benefit received by income-qualified Wisconsin households last winter. The average included $417 toward heating expenses and $195 for electricity.
The research was initiated when the locally owned electric utilities that make up WPPI Energy’s membership sought more insight on how to best support income-qualified customers. WPPI Energy is a not-for-profit wholesale power company, owned and governed by the utilities it serves.
“Our joint-action agency is driven by the not-for-profit electric utilities we serve,” said WPPI Energy Senior Energy Services Manager and study co-author Anna Stieve. “These public power utilities have a strong focus on customers and their communities. So, it’s a natural fit to investigate how to best support some of the most vulnerable residents.”
To help fund the research, WPPI Energy applied for and received a grant through the American Public Power Association’s Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments (DEED) program. DEED funds research, pilot projects, and education to improve the operations and services of public power utilities. The survey was conducted by the Dieringer Research Group with active involvement from Stieve and other WPPI Energy staff experts.
Gaps in program awareness
The results revealed that seven out of 10 qualified households were aware of the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP), with women and older residents demonstrating greater knowledge of the assistance available. Notably, only 27% of income-qualified residents applied for the WHEAP benefits available to them.
Why did such a large population of eligible residents not apply for assistance? Many indicated they did not believe they would qualify, or did not feel they had a need. One-third of respondents didn’t want to ask for help, and another 16% felt other people needed it more than they did.
‘We really want to spread the word’
“Our survey uncovered that a lot of people don’t apply when they could really benefit from the program,” said Stieve. “This money is set aside to help pay heating and electric bills for those who qualify, and we really want to spread the word so customers don’t miss out on support that’s meant for them.”
To help better understand how to get this message out to customers, the survey asked how respondents heard about WHEAP in the past, and how they preferred to learn about energy assistance programs in the future. Customers would prefer to receive information through utility bill inserts, but were actually more likely to learn about the program through word of mouth.
Marketing Manager Steve Lightbourn, the study’s other co-author, says this and other insights from the survey will help WPPI Energy member utilities spread awareness and hopefully eliminate the stigma associated with receiving assistance.
“When customers take advantage of the programs available to them, it makes the entire community stronger,” continued Lightbourn. “Our member utilities want to support the people they serve, and promoting WHEAP is one of the easiest and most effective ways to do that.”
According to over 80% of fund recipients, applying for heating and electric assistance is easy. To find out for yourself, visit energyandhousing.wi.gov or call 1-866-432-8947.