Non-Heating Electric Use and Conservation Potential Among Energy Assistance Program Recipients in Minneapolis

Low income energy programs in Minneapolis have focused on gas used for space and water heating. After high electric bills were found in one program, Northern States Power Company and the City of Minneapolis undertook a joint study of electric use among Energy Assistance Program (EAP) recipients.

EAP recipients have fewer major electric appliances than the general population. Large differences were found for air conditioners, dehumidifiers, dishwashers, clothes washers and ranges, while saturations were essentially the same in the two groups for freezers, supplementary heaters, waterbed heaters, dryers and televisions.

EAP recipients are similar to the general population in both the mean and range of their electric use. About half the variation in use within EAP households can be explained by a regression model of demographics and appliances. The rest is probably caused by variations in energy use behaviors or appliance performance. However, exploratory monitoring of refrigerators, the highest use appliance common in Minneapolis EAP households, did not find anomalously high use.

The electric bill as a percent of income is four times as great for EAP households as for the general population, and many recipients are in arrears or feel they cannot afford their bills.

Substantial fractions of the EAP population do not know how the electric company determines their bill, and in ranking the relative use of appliances, EAP households did not do better than if they had guessed at random. More than 60% feel there is nothing further they could do to reduce electric use.

As a result of these findings, a program is being developed to serve the upper quartile of EAP electric customers (bills over $38/month). The program will emphasize behavioral conservation following social psychological principles. It also includes a site-specific appliance audit. 

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Non-Heating Electric Use and Conservation Potential Among Energy Assistance Program Recipients in Minneapolis