Addressing Ashland’s Affordability Challenge

How can we make it more possible for folks who work in Ashland to live in Ashland?

As I’ve visited almost 3,000 homes across town over the past eight weeks, I’ve had many deep doorstep conversations with Ashland voters.

Affordability is top of mind for many residents. Based on my public sector experience, I see many options available to us. I look forward to working with the Council and staff to address this challenge in creative ways that work for all Ashlanders.

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.

I will also work to restructure our utility rates–another tool we have at our disposal thanks to the fact that we own our electric utility. 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.

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. The City must be prepared to help ensure that our low- and middle-income households gain access to new resources available through the Inflation Reduction Act. 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. Learn more about the savings you can tap into through the Inflation Reduction Act here.

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. 

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.”