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Consumers Energy to target Flint zip codes with highest energy burden for energy efficiency programs

DOE/public domain
A technician installing blown insulation in an attic to improve the energy efficiency of a home.

Environmental groups have reached a settlement with Consumers Energy in an energy efficiency case that will require the company to direct more funding toward the utility's low-income customers in Flint.

Sharonda Williams-Tack is with the Sierra Club.

"After the city of Detroit, the city of Flint has the highest concentration of highly energy-burdened census tracts in the state of Michigan," Williams-Tack said. "So we really wanted them [Consumers Energy] to dig into the city of Flint and look at, where are the neighborhoods that are really experiencing the highest energy burden."

Williams-Tack said Consumers will dedicate $1 million in energy efficiency funding for households in six zip codes in Flint — those that have the highest energy bills and the lowest household incomes. She said the problem is often a combination of poverty and substandard housing.

"Many of the homes in those communities have leaky roofs. They have poor insulation; the housing stock is just terrible," she said. "So they're just wasting energy."

Under the settlement, the utility will also spend $1 million to fix health hazards in the eligible homes, including faulty wiring, mold, leaking roofs, and lead contamination. Those problems have to be addressed first before energy efficiency work like better insulation can begin.

Williams-Tack said trusted neighborhood organizations will enlist residents who qualify, as opposed to the first contact being Consumers Energy workers.

"We know a lot of times the utility is very often not trusted in the community, especially when you have a utility that is shutting off your power."

Environmental groups reached a similar energy efficiency settlement with DTE Energy, targeting people in the zip codes in Detroit with the highest energy burdens.

But Williams-Tack said it will take DTE significantly longer to address the need in Detroit because of the greater size of the low income population there.

Editor's note: Consumers Energy is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.