During 2020, 215 families received assistance through the program, which raised nearly $60,000 in donations to cover energy bill payments. Over 2,700 customers currently support the GNF.
Research from smart meter data collected across Texas suggests that demand for low-income support programs like the one in Georgetown will increase. According to researchers at Tufts University, electricity usage across the United States increased by 10 percent during the second quarter of 2020, from April to July. That equates to customers paying an additional $6 billion in electricity bills.
As Steve Cicala, who led the Tufts research, explains, the fact that more people are working and spending more of their free time at home is pushing up electricity costs. “Instead of turning down our thermostats and congregating in more consolidated spaces like schools and offices, staying at home usually means heating and cooling entire houses,” he says. “It means pre-heating individual ovens instead of using cafeterias. The activities associated with staying at home generally means more electricity usage overall.”
The initiative in Georgetown is just the latest example of how low-income Texans received support with their utility bills during the pandemic. On March 26, 2020, the Public Utility Commission announced a moratorium on utility cutoffs. The PUC says the order helped around 600,000 people keep their power on during the summer months, a particularly important time in Texas when temperatures and AC usage are high.
However, some observers criticized the PUC for not going far enough, since customers continued to accumulate overdue balances on their accounts that many were not able to repay.
At the beginning of October 2020, the moratorium was allowed to expire, leading to a sharp uptick in electricity cutoffs. Dana Harmon, executive director of the Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute, noted that in spite of support programs, energy insecurity increased due to the pandemic. “Household access to energy is essential to maintain health and well-being,” she adds. “And even before the pandemic, one in three U.S. households was reporting difficulty paying their energy bills.”