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How Energy Efficiency Programs Help Families

By Debra Ponce

I remember dying inside each time I had to open my electric bill. Our family bill was well over $300 every month, except during the winter. No matter how I tried to get ahead, the electric bill would arrive and drop me back down financially. At the time, I had two teenagers, one in college.

I was in financial trouble after covering back-to-school expenses for both sons and one son’s move to college. My debt for CPS energy had reached $1,200, and my husband left, taking his income.

I was left owing all this money and had only recently started a new job. It was a challenging time, so I vividly remember hearing about the Casa Verde weatherization program from San Antonio’s energy utility, CPS Energy.

Programs like Casa Verde can prove transformational for families, especially in a place like Texas, where the changing climate has supercharged our summers and made catastrophic events like Winter Storm Uri more likely. Sharing my experience with Casa Verde might encourage you to take advantage of the benefits. Casa Verde in San Antonio and similar programs elsewhere provide price stability and energy resiliency, which benefits all.

The first step was a community forum with a Casa Verde weatherization representative who explained the program. I would have never signed up if not for her. During the Casa Verde program discussion, I raised my hand to ask a few questions. Many of us shared how expensive the electric bill was and how difficult it has been to catch up. It was good to feel the support and to know others were experiencing similar issues. At the end of her presentation, she encouraged us “to apply and see what happens.”

That night, I applied for and cried myself to sleep, hoping I qualified. Turns out, I did. It was a slight lift amid a dark time.

The next step was a CPS Energy representative visiting my home with his clipboard to explain the weatherization process meticulously. He took the time to review the work and how long it would take, all while inspecting my home and making notes. I trailed behind him as he explained each step, making me feel comfortable and informed about what to expect.

On the scheduled day, a team of professionals arrived. They started by sealing my doors and testing for outside leaks; they added insulation in my attic and sealed my windows. The contractor measured my windows and checked for the insulation behind my sheetrock. They did all the promised services and returned a week later with blackened window screens for my windows and energy-efficient LED lights for my entire house. Within a month, I started saving on my electric bill.

As for that overwhelming $1,200 bill, the Casa Verde team worked with me to structure payments to keep me afloat until my situation improved while paying the balance. Thanks to the CPS Energy team and the Casa Verde program, I went from nothing to something.

CPS Energy receives funding to assist people in situations like mine and currently has funding for the Casa Verde program.

At Public Citizen, one of my goals is to connect you with organizations that can weatherize your homes, providing you with comfort, financial relief, and energy savings to benefit us all. Allow me to pay forward the kindness I received by urging you to apply and see what happens.

Debra Ponce is an organizer for the Texas office of Public Citizen. She lives and works in San Antonio.