Wednesday, November 15, 2023
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Pathways for Limited-English Utility Customers to Navigate a Foreign Energy Landscape
Session ID
D7 - Community Coalitions for Energy Equity
Equity & Empowerment
Stacia Dreyer

Daily, utility customers interact with their utilities, completing seemingly simple tasks: receiving and paying bills and/or signing up for utility-sponsored programs. But these interactions are not always simple. Customers receive bills they cannot pay, see charges they do not understand, encounter scams, or may be at risk of service disruption. Navigating these issues is challenging for all customers but for limited-English proficient (LEP) customers, it can seem impossible. Many LEP customers also carry a high energy burden and are low income. Additionally, some LEP customers are recent immigrants who do not yet understand the US energy landscape. How can utilities bridge the knowledge and language gaps between the communications they send out and those who receive them? How can LEP customers be empowered to resolve their energy-related issues? Does offering a translator service do enough to ensure equitable services? In this presentation, we will share findings from a recent California (CA) statewide evaluation that highlight how an innovative network of community-based organizations (CBOs) helped bridge that gap to provide direct energy related services, education, and outreach in an understandable and culturally relevant way. This program, Community Help and Awareness of Natural Gas and Electric Services (CHANGES), is funded by the four CA investor-owned utilities (PG&E, SCE, SCG, and SDG&E) and overseen by the CA Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The CBOs offer educational workshops to help LEP customers understand their bills, billing codes, and charges. They also identify assistance programs that could benefit the LEP customers and help with enrollment, which now often requires online forms—an obstacle for those without fluent digital literacy. Overall, we found the CBO network helped LEP customers navigate a foreign energy language via education, advocacy, and empowerment. In doing so, they helped utilities, and the commission that regulates them, move towards more equitable service provision.

Supporting Document 1