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Monday, May 18, 2020

Lompoc could provide residents with utility bill relief

Posted By on Mon, May 18, 2020 at 7:24 PM

Lompoc residents struggling to pay their utility bills may receive some relief depending on how the City Council votes on two items during its May 19 meeting.

The first proposes the city use about $2.3 million from a greenhouse gas allowance reserve fund that the state pays into to provide all utility ratepayers in the city, including residents and businesses, with a $150 rebate to be used toward their utility bills.

click to enlarge BILLS, BILLS, BILLS As its own utility provider, the city of Lompoc has access to funds from the state's cap-and-trade program, which the city's thinking about using to give residents a break on their bills during the pandemic. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • BILLS, BILLS, BILLS As its own utility provider, the city of Lompoc has access to funds from the state's cap-and-trade program, which the city's thinking about using to give residents a break on their bills during the pandemic.
As a city that’s also its own utility provider, it’s part of the state’s cap-and-trade program, which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from significant sources. Through this program the city receives funding from the state to help offset the cost of complying with strict state-mandated emission reduction measures, according to a staff report for the item.

State law dictates the type of projects and programs these allowances can fund. Mayor Jenelle Osborne said the city uses this funding to improve its electrical infrastructure, purchase renewable energy, and upgrade a geothermal power station the city has a stake in as a part of the Northern California Power Agency. This agency consists of a group of cities and other districts that purchase, aggregate, and manage their own electricity.

Other cities in this agency, such as Redding, have introduced a rebate program similar to the one Lompoc is considering to assist residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Councilmember Dirk Starbuck proposed the city look into something similar during a previous council meeting.

If the city moves forward with the proposal, the nearly 15,000 ratepayers in the city would receive a $150 credit to their account when the next billing cycle begins. But this would take away funding from the other projects the city normally dedicates this funding to, which is something the council needs to consider, Osborne said.

“We need the funds to address ongoing upgrades and other issues,” Osborne said. “We can’t ignore those.”

In another item related to utility bills, the council will discuss a program the city’s Community Development Division is recommending that’ll use roughly $250,000 in federal grant funding to assist low-income residents and small businesses of five employees or less with their utility bills.



This funding comes in the form of community development block grants the city received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that Congress passed in late March to provide assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a staff report for this item, since Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the statewide stay-at-home order in late March, the city’s Utility Department has received numerous calls from customers who claim they can’t pay their bills as a result of work loss related to the pandemic and the governor’s order. This has resulted in more than $500,000 in unpaid bills accruing over the last two months.

Through this program, residents could receive funding that would cover up to three months of unpaid utility bills. To qualify for the program, residents would have to attribute the financial hardships that led to them not paying their utility bills to the ongoing pandemic.

“This program will not pay for delinquent utility amounts due for periods before or after the pandemic,” the staff report states. “And the grant would be distributed to eligible households as complete applications are received and processed until funding is depleted.”

The council will vote on both items during its May 19 meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Unlike other cities, these meetings are still open to the public, but can also be viewed live on the city’s website. ∆

—Zac Ezzone
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