Through the Energy and Utility Justice Project, NHLA advocates for access to affordable basic utility services for low-income consumers. NHLA represents clients with issues related to utility disconnections and arrears as well as with issues accessing assistance programs such as the Electric Assistance Program, the Weatherization Assistance Program, the Fuel Assistance Program, and energy efficiency programs. NHLA was instrumental in the creation of a state-wide low-income Electric Assistance Program. An NHLA attorney sits on the program’s advisory board which monitors and guides how the program’s funds are distributed. In 2014, around 36,000 households received a discount on their monthly electric bills through this program. This program also funded emergency grants to low-income New Hampshire residents who received disconnection notices this past winter.
NHLA also regularly advocates for the sincere inclusion of low-income households in energy efficiency programs. In this work, NHLA represents The Way Home, a fellow non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income households obtain and sustain safe, affordable housing throughout the state.
In the latest two year plan approved by the Public Utilities Commission, NHLA helped to secure 15.5 percent of the total energy efficiency funds for the low-income "Home Energy Assistance Program", up from a 15 percent allocation in the previous plan. In 2014, approximately 1300 low-income households were served by the Home Energy Assistance Program.
NHLA and The Way Home will work to give a voice to the concerns of low-income Granite Staters to ensure that low-income households continue to be included as active participants in energy efficiency projects as New Hampshire looks to ramp up its commitment to reducing energy usage.
In addition to this on-going policy work, NHLA provides testimony at public hearings in the state Legislature to educate and inform lawmakers about the potential impact of energy and utility related legislation on the low-income community. NHLA regularly speaks out in favor of legislation that will assist those low-income ratepayers most in need, and stands up against the raiding of funds dedicated to financing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
Esther was an 80 year old woman living alone who came to NHLA facing a foreclosure on her home. During the course of interviewing Esther, NHLA discovered that Esther was scheduled to have her electricity shut off in three days because she had been late on a payment to her utility company. Esther had an arrearage of $4,000 on her electric bill, related to her treatment for a medical condition, and had been on a payment plan to pay down the arrearage. When Esther was late with a payment, her utility provider sent her a disconnection notice and demanded she pay the full amount owed or a very high monthly payment. Acting quicky, NHLA contacted the utility’s collections unit, and convinced them to reinstate the original payment arrangement.
The Public Utilities Commission rules require utilities to seek permission from the Commission before disconnecting customers with medical emergency certifications, and provide that customer the opportunity to make their case to the Commission prior to disconnection. In Esther's case, it seemed that her utility provider had not followed the regulatory procedure required, and the utility quickly reversed direction when contacted by NHLA.