Did you notice the new line item on your January bill from OPALCO? All co-op members began paying about 45 cents per month (average residential bill) to fund the new Energy Assistance Credit to help qualified low-income households pay their electric bills. This “Energy Assist” program provides a bill credit of $10-$25 per month (depending on household size) every month of the year to members who meet the qualifications for other assistance programs such as Federal Free Lunch, LIHEAP or OPALCO’s Project PAL.
The rising cost of living is a county-wide issue. OPALCO’s Low-Income Needs Assessment in 2015 identified housing as the number one affordability issue, with combined utilities coming in fifth on the list. OPALCO is doing its part and encourages other utilities and organizations to step up to address the affordability gap for a sustainable and vibrant community.
The application for the Energy Assist program is available online and paper copies can be picked up at your local OPALCO offices and at island Family Resource and Senior Centers. Applications will begin to be processed by the end of February 2016.
“This well thought-out program will really help low-income households to manage the recent increase in energy costs,” said Erin O’Dell, Executive Director of the Orcas Community Resource Center where she often refers clients to Project PAL. “There is a need for both programs, Energy Assist and Project PAL, to meet the growing affordability gap in our community.”
While Energy Assist helps households with their energy bills year round, Project PAL is still an essential program for members who have emergency needs during the heating season (October – April). PAL provides a one time per year winter grant of an average $150 per household, funded when members round up their bill or make monthly and one-time donations to PAL. Members who qualify for PAL will be eligible for Energy Assist, and members who receive the Energy Assist credit are also eligible to apply for an emergency PAL grant.
Jon Blomgren, Assistant Manager of Member Services, explained, “We are treating Energy Assist as a pilot program this year and will evaluate it quarterly to make adjustments based on participation. Our Low Income Needs Assessment identified as many as 1,500 households who would qualify for the program, however fewer than 300 household applied for Project PAL funds in 2015.” Blomgren would appreciate member feedback on the Energy Assistance Program, especially from those who go through the application process. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The interdependence of island living is a large part of our history and a key to our future sustainability and quality of life. The higher cost of living and the logistical challenges are realities that we choose when we make our homes here. OPALCO members can work together to give each other a hand up with the power of more than 11,000 co-op members to share the burden.
Do all you can to help: support Project PAL, check on your elderly neighbors, support local non-profits that provide essential services and share whatever abundance is available to you. It’s the island way. It’s the co-op way.