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Clean Energy Assistance for Silicon Valley's Poverty Stricken Underside.

We seek to provide clean energy assistance to low-income families in Silicon Valley, to reduce their energy use and utility bill costs.

Photo of Diane Bailey
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“Saving money by saving energy for the people who need it the most.”

Utility bills are a large portion of monthly budgets among low-income families. Low-income households (at or below 80% of the area median income)— many of whom live in older housing with poor ventilation and aging, inefficient appliances and heating systems—spend on average 7.2 percent of their income on utility bills, which amounts to about $1,700 annually out of $25,000 in median household income. That is more than triple the 2.3 percent spent by higher-income households for electricity, heating and cooling. Low-income families are also vulnerable to rate increases and the least able to take conservation measures.  In addition, low-income households compared to other households are less likely to have compact fluorescent bulbs and low-flow showerheads, but 25% more likely to have energy-intensive space heaters and 50% more likely to rely on window air conditioning units. A patchwork of energy service and assistance programs exists through nonprofit organizations and local, regional, and federal governments.  Still, most families that struggle with finances are unaware of these programs due to language and other barriers. As a result, too many households do not take advantage of energy conservation measures because they are unaware of or unable to implement these programs.

Knitting together successful energy services programs for vulnerable populations and improving outreach and access to those programs would help low-income families save a significant amount of money, estimated at 26% of electricity costs according to one recent study.[3] The programs could help families save a substantial amount of energy, resulting in a decrease in the amount of power generation required and a parallel improvement in air quality and reduction in the amount of pollutants that contribute to global warming.  Improving access and participation in the most effective energy conservation programs would be a win-win for families struggling with gentrification pressures and monthly expenses, as well as the environment and resource conservation.

Last Fall, we worked with a group of Stanford students to research, characterize, and summarize the most successful approach to providing energy assistance to low-income families in Silicon Valley.  Please see the following video summarizing that project:

http://videos.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/3/5/23354588/final_menlospark_video_146.mp4

Now we are ready to put what we learned into action, providing real energy solutions for families who are renting or otherwise unable to make the changes they need to reduce their energy use and utility bill payments.

Explain your idea

We seek to pilot a heat pump water heater and heat pump heating project in collaboration with our new Community Choice Energy agency, Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE). The program will issue an RFP for contractors to provide a number of these efficient electric heaters and water heaters (say 50 of each to start with) to replace natural gas heaters and water heaters at the end of their useful life. Families that qualify as low income can contact PCE to get on a waiting list for a new heat pump water heater or heater to be installed when theirs has reached the end of its useful life. In this way, PCE can work with the winning bidder to arrange replacements in a timely, orderly way, giving low income families the best new fossil-fuel-free technology without the hassle of trying to find a contractor to install it on their own. The winning bidder will take care of all electrical needs and installation. The low-income families will benefit from efficient new appliances. The region will gain important experience with new fossil-fuel-free heating technology. If the pilot is successful it can be expanded. Without viable alternatives to natural gas, a potent fossil fuel with serious global warming impacts, we won't be able to meet climate goals to maintain a livable planet.

Who Benefits?

Many low-income families struggle to survive in Silicon Valley, where jobs are plentiful but the cost of living is prohibitively expensive. Some families live in substandard housing conditions that are poorly maintained with outdated heating systems, poor or nonexistent insulation and old, inefficient appliances. This project would save those families significant energy and money.

How is your idea unique?

We have noted a significant under-utilization of energy assistance and weatherization programs. Additionally, although heat pump technology has matured, is affordable and offers multiple benefits over conventional heating, it has not grown in popularity. Using an RFP approach in collaboration with community choice energy, allows a group buy to keep the appliance costs down, ensures affordable and reasonable installation costs, and saves individual families from researching the best technology and finding contractors capable of installing the heat pumps.

Tell us more about you

Menlo Spark is a nonprofit organization joining together Menlo Park businesses, residents and government partners to achieve a climate-neutral Menlo Park within ten years. Promoting social equity and helping low-income families save money while saving energy is paramount to our sustainability goals. We are part of a new collaborative, called the Peninsula Advanced Energy Communities initiative, working closely with San Mateo County, utilities, school districts and numerous stakeholders throughout the region to deliver innovative clean energy measures.

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

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Photo of Diane Bailey
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Hi there. My apologies for the slow response. I'm just back from vacation.

Menlo Spark is a small, independent nonprofit (501(c)3), aimed at helping Menlo Park become the first carbon neutral city by 2025 by working with businesses, residents, and city government.

Our website is: www.menlospark.org
We also have an online challenge aimed at sparking competition between residents and students on who can have the lowest carbon footprint: www.menlogreenchallenge.org

Now that Menlo Park and all of San Mateo County are on track to receive carbon free power in the next five years, we're focused on transitioning fossil fuel use to clean electricity, working with other NGO, local government and business partners to demonstrate heat pumps and other alternatives to natural gas, accelerate and support EV deployment and create the first "Advanced Energy City" with partner groups to show how carbon free technology integrates across a community in an affordable way.

Thank you for your interest in Menlo Spark! Please follows on Facebook and Twitter: @MenloSpark2025

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