During the fall 2022 Council campaign, I visited more than 3,400 Ashland homes, which meant lots of spontaneous doorstep conversations with Ashland voters. I know that affordability is top of mind for many residents.
I believe we must work to be an inclusive community that works for everyone – young and old, working and retired, long-time residents and recent arrivals, and everyone in between. We need people who work or own a business in Ashland to be able to live and play here too. We need more housing options that suit families with children, seniors on fixed incomes, young couples, and students.
Based on my public sector experience, I see many options available to us.
- Extend Ashland’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (ALIEAP) to the summer months. We are fortunate to own our utilities because it gives the Council some tools that other cities lack to develop progressive policies for our residents. Here’s a great example: Ashland’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (ALIEAP) offers low-income households a deep discount for electricity in winter months. If you know of someone who needs assistance, please let them know about the ALIEAP program. Here’s the application packet (or call 541-552-2038 to request one). The deadline to submit the application along with 30 days proof of income is January 31, 2023. For more info about the program, including program eligibility, click here. I will work to extend the ALIEAP discount to the summer months as well when air conditioning is increasingly necessary for protection against extreme heat and smoke.
- Restructure our utility rate structures to reduce the cost burden on low and middle income households while also encouraging conservation. Since we own our own electric utility, we get to decide how we want to structure our utility rates. The cost per kWh of electricity or cubic foot of water should be as low as possible for a reasonable base consumption amount, and it should be paid for by increasing rates more steeply on households that consume much more.
- Ensure that Ashland residents have maximum access to funding for affordable home energy retrofits. The 2022 Federal Inflation Reduction Act provides lots of resources for homeowners and renters to upgrade their home heating and electrical systems. The City must be prepared to help our low- and middle-income households tap into these resources. I will also work to ensure development of a proactive program to insulate homes and swap out inefficient heating and cooling equipment whenever possible and replace them with high efficiency heat pumps, taking advantage of new state and federal programs to reduce installation costs. These and other programs are critically important to ensure that everyone has access to new technologies that can dramatically lower their utility costs, protect our residents from smoke intrusion and high temperatures, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
- City ordinances and planning processes that accelerate housing production of all types, while maintaining Ashland’s unique character. I am hopeful the City Council will approve an assertive housing production strategy that includes securing existing low-cost housing in our three mobile home parks and exploring innovative approaches to take the high price of land out of the housing equation by expanding our community land trust or adding new ones.
- A walkable/bikeable city where we can safely and efficiently get around town without driving if we choose. The upcoming update to our city’s Transportation System Plan will provide new opportunities to re-imagine our city streets.
The Deeper Dive:
Why is a Community-Owned Electric Utility a Good Thing?
Ashland is one of 12 cities in Oregon that owns its own electric utility. The majority of Oregon residents (74% in 2019) obtain their electricity from large investor-owned utilities like Pacific Power (PacifiCorps — owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway) and Portland General Electric. Here’s a map that tells the story.
The Oregon Citizen’s Utility Board is a great source of information about the electric utility landscape across the state — and a great advocate for consumers. See “Who Owns and Regulates Oregon’s Energy Utilities.”
Here’s another good resource: Benefits of Public Power, published by the American Public Power Association. APPA is voice for the not-for-profit, community-owned utilities that power 2,000 towns and cities and serve more than 49 million people nationwide. Here’s a useful explainer from APPA:
“Public power utilities are community-owned, locally controlled and operated on a not-for-profit basis. Each utility is a little different, depending on population, geography, structure, and the community’s values and goals. This ability to tailor operations and services to the local community is the foundation of public power’s success.
“A public power utility provides long-term value to its community and citizens. The benefits are manifold, including (to name a few) rate stability, support for jobs, policies that are in line with community priorities, and financial support for local government functions. To examine these benefits, it is helpful to consider them in broad categories: local control, reliable customer service, affordable rates, and economic development.”