Lifeline Rates

Miami It’s hard to keep up.

Thirty years ago one of the core ACORN issues in those days of fuel shortages and rising electricity and gas bills was utility rates. We campaigned extensively for what we called “lifeline” utility rates which would especially benefit lower income customers and people with fixed income. The way it worked involved a fixed, lower price for the first 400 kilowatts of power sufficient to cover basic, though minimal needs.

The high water mark of these campaigns was our successful passage of a citywide initiative in Little Rock, Arkansas around 1976 establishing lifeline utility rates in the city. Unfortunately, the victory was overturned on a small technicality. It seemed that some less than 20 customers of a rural electric cooperative within the city limits, unknown to us and virtually everyone but God, would not have been fully compensated by our lifeline proposal, thereby making it confiscatory and giving the courts and business community a way to undo the peoples’ will. Hillary Clinton and Webb Hubbell were the lawyers carrying the business flag in that courtroom for the Rose law firm, but that’s another story.

I was reminded of all of these fights while in a meeting with Florida ACORN leaders led by Aaron Pridgin and Jenny Lawson, Florida ACORN’s head organizer in West Palm Beach at the headquarters of the Florida Power & Light Company. We were engaging around a more global understanding of ACORN and our programs. We also wanted them to work with us on the issues of LIHEAP (low income heat and energy assistance program) funds and support more extensive outreach through our ACORN Tax Access and Benefit Centers among other programs.

Anyway towards the end of the meeting they gave us a sheet on their efforts vis a vis our constituency. Interestingly one of the items on the list said that they provided the first 1000 kilowatts of energy at a 20% discount on the regular rate. Under questioning they agreed that this was along the lines of the old “lifeline” rate concept.

Fascinating! How many other utilities have some hybrid form of lifeline rates, and what would it take to implement these more widely now? Worth a good look around the country in these times of increased energy cost and concern!

Florida Power and Light
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