Southeast Minnesota

Austin Utilities helps low-income residents reduce energy burden

March 2022

In the fall of 2021 low-income residents of 56 households owned by the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority received Heat Smart Kits from the local municipal electric and gas utility, Austin Utilities.

"Austin Utilities was looking for a way to reach low-income natural gas customers for energy savings," says Kelly Lady, marketing and energy services manager at Austin Utilities. "We were thrilled to create a community partnership with the HRA and to give to the community. It was important to us that the program have a direct energy saving benefit and that there be no associated cost. Many times rebates require customers to make a financial investment, but this program helps those who need it the most and who might not have funds to buy new equipment."

 

The kits purchased by Austin Utilities, available from HeatSmart.net, contain a wool blanket, window weatherstripping and a booklet with energy saving tips.

 

According to Heat Smart, each kit can save $200 on a family’s energy bill. The 56 households were given a kit for each bedroom in the home, says Lady, “If they had three bedrooms then they got three kits so they had a blanket and could weatherstrip the bedroom window.”

 

Austin Utilities added items to the kit including two LED light bulbs, a night light, an energy saving guide in both English and Spanish, and reminder stickers in both languages to place near the home’s thermostat.

Austin Utilities also provided a Nest E Learning programmable thermostat and contracted with an electrician for the installation. The thermostat saves energy by automatically reducing temperatures at night and bringing them back to comfortable levels during the day. 

“We used a local electrician to do the installation. Because we partnered with the HRA and they had a trusted relationship with all the residents, this made it easier for the electrician to visit the home for installation,” says Lady. “In addition we provided a mini-training for the residents if they chose, and we will be following up with residents if they want additional training to operate the thermostat.”

Below: Kelly Lady with HRA staff observe an installation of thermostat with Fox Electric.

Kelly Lady with HRA staff observe an installation of thermostat with Fox Electric

All together she estimates that the initiative will save 7,383 kilowatt hours of electricity and 2,919 therms of natural gas, which adds up to about $2,500 annually for all the residents.

Lady says both Austin Utilities and neighboring Owatonna Public Utilities are hoping to expand this initial pilot and reach low-income seniors in the future. 

We are thinking of working with the Mower County Senior Center as well as our local CAP agency. The challenge is not having a single landlord to work with, like with the HRA, but we have some ideas on ways to reach customers who qualify for this program.

Kelly Lady, marketing and energy services manager at Austin Utilities

She feels positive about future projects, “because the program provided such a nice opportunity to help customers who need it most and build community.”

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