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Low Income Energy Assistance Programs

California Public Utilities code 382 states that electricity and gas services are basic necessities and requires the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to ensure that low-income ratepayers are able to afford essential energy supplies. Bill discounts for low-income customers, in what is now called the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program, began in 1989 (Senate Bill 987). Moreover, in 1987, Senate Bill 845, codified by California Public Utilities code sections 2790, 382(b), and 327, recognized energy efficiency as a means to reduce hardship for low-income customers and established energy efficiency programs for low-income customers. The CPUC oversees the CARE programs and the low-income energy efficiency programs, including the Energy Savings Assistance (ESA) programs, as implemented by the investor owned utilities. Public Advocates Office advocates to expand and improve program design to ensure that energy is affordable for at-risk customers.  



The CARE discount is California’s primary rate affordability tool. The four large investor-owned utilities in California have enrolled approximately 86% of eligible customers onto the CARE program. The Public Advocates Office (the Office) advocates for effective outreach and enrollment policies and procedures, to ensure that eligible customers receive CARE assistance.

Senate Bill 327, passed in 2013, authorized changes in electricity rate design, prompting the four large investor-owned utilities to use less tiers in their electricity rates. In the future, the IOUs will direct more customers to time-of-use rates. The Office will work to ensure that the CARE discount remains effective as it changes to match the new electricity rate design. 


Energy Savings Assistance Program

The ESA program is an energy efficiency program, providing weatherization and appliance replacement and repair services at no cost to low-income households. In addition to the reduction of energy use and bills, the program provides health, comfort and safety benefits to households. The Public Advocates Office advocates that the ESA program be as cost effective as possible, delivering the most benefits for the funds invested. More information on the ESA program, available here



In November 2009, The Public Advocates office issued a report on the Status of Energy Utility Service Disconnections in California, finding that disconnections were rising dramatically, especially of low-income customers. In response, the CPUC opened a rulemaking to address the problem of disconnections. In 2010, the CPUC ordered temporary protections for energy service disconnections for the investor owned utilities as a response to the economic downturn in California. Subsequently, the CPUC issued additional decisions for all utilities that require utility best practice strategies to keep energy service disconnections low in California. One result of these decisions is that the four large investor-owned utilities issue monthly reports on their service disconnections, which are available in the disconnections rulemaking.

In September 2017, Senate Bill 598 was passed, requiring the Commission to revisit the issue of service disconnections and to develop policies to reduce the number of disconnections. The Public Advocates Office will be active in CPUC proceedings, researching the issue and helping to develop effective policies.


Other Resources

LIHEAP and the Weather Assistance Program (WAP) are the federally funded equivalents of CARE and ESA and are available to help low-income California utility customers.

A history of ESA, CARE, and LIHEAP.