Offering energy efficiency solutions to help our customers save energy and money is nothing new. In fact, since 2009, our energy efficiency programs have saved customers over $5.5 billion on their bills and helped nearly 200,000 low-income customers make their homes and apartments more energy efficient and affordable.

“One of our priorities at Consumers Energy is to provide the energy our customers need, and to ensure we’re caring for all customers and communities we serve,” said Angela Thompkins, chief diversity officer and vice president of community affairs. “That means recognizing the unique challenges individuals or communities may face, and structuring the services we provide to ensure they can live safer and healthier lives.”

But what happens when the customers who are in the most need of energy efficiency upgrades can’t get them due to problems with the home’s structure or issues like mold? Well, if you work for Consumers Energy you create a program to find and resolve those issues, so customers can get the energy efficiency upgrades they need. It may sound easy, but it was the result of the dedication of our team to truly care for our customers and their unique situations.

Last year, we created a pilot program and invested more than $1 million in initiatives to improve quality of life and reduce bills for customers in historically disadvantaged communities in Michigan. The initial investment focused on several ZIP codes in Flint and surrounding areas and will be a playbook for work in future communities. The initiatives were free to customers and targeted essential health and safety improvements for homes and multifamily complexes.

The program was designed in collaboration with environmental justice experts and advocates, including the Michigan Public Service Commission, community and local elected officials, and nonprofit agencies. The efforts included:

  • Collaborating with the City of Flint to bundle upgrades by performing follow-up home energy analyses in homes receiving the city’s lead-based paint abatement assistance to improve quality of life and reduce energy usage and bills.
  • Connecting residents with diagnosed respiratory conditions to energy and home upgrades using healthy building materials to improve air quality and reduce energy usage and bills.
  • Targeting single and multi-family residences with a specific and expanded portfolio of energy efficiency upgrades, such as furnace repairs, weatherization, etc.

The pilot program is only one of several initiatives we implemented in recent years for customers residing in historically disadvantaged communities. Last year we also received the Utility Star of Energy Efficiency Award from the Alliance to Save Energy for its work to install free Nest Thermostats for low-income and ALICE (asset limited, income-constrained, employed) customers in 2022. Smart thermostats save customers, on average, 10-15 percent on energy bills.

Expanding Energy Efficiency for Vulnerable Customers, Supporting Clean Energy Future

Last month, we received approval to move forward with aggressive new efforts to help low-income customers across Michigan reduce energy use and lower bills, including doubling spending on a program that refurbishes homes for energy-efficient upgrades. This will help us expand the important work started last year in Flint and expand it across the state.

The Michigan Public Service Commission approved our nearly $600 million energy efficiency plan, which offers new and growing programs to connect with vulnerable households over the next two years.

The plan provides benefits for all customers and reflects our Clean Energy Plan commitment to reducing energy waste in homes and businesses.

“Consumers Energy is committed to all of our customers and communities we serve, from the largest manufacturers to households where every dollar matters,” said Thompkins. “We’re excited to deliver new energy solutions that will offer even more savings, focusing on those who traditionally have been underserved.”

Highlights of the approved plan include:

  • More emphasis on supporting low-income customers as part of a diverse portfolio of energy efficiency programs for all major sectors and customers.
  • Increasing investment in single-family and multi-family income-qualified programs, and more coordination between customers enrolled in both energy assistance and energy efficiency programs.
  • Targeting diverse customers in disadvantaged communities for outreach from our energy efficiency programs.
  • Doubling investment in our Income Qualified Health & Safety Program. The pilot program funds health and safety repairs needed to prepare homes for energy efficiency upgrades and supports measures to improve air quality and provide other health benefits.
  • Continuing a focused effort in Flint that began last year and developing a second effort to increase enrollment in energy efficiency and health and safety programs to serve vulnerable customers in high-need communities.

“By expanding our outreach and connections with our most vulnerable customers, we believe we can remove barriers to economic success and energy access,” Thompkins said. “We look forward to communicating more with customers in the months ahead about how we can help make a larger positive impact in their lives.”

Creating Career Opportunities in Flint and Jackson with New Workforce Development Program

With the successful pilot, approved Energy Efficiency Plan and continued focus on supporting our low-income customers we ran into a possible roadblock. Who was going to perform the work? To help meet the demand, we are creating new professional opportunities for residents of Flint and Jackson with a new pilot program that provides skills for people to work in fields alongside the energy provider.

Our Clean Energy Workforce Development Program is now providing training in Jackson for people employed in the building trades to become certified in advanced energy efficiency, lead abatement and other work. Earlier this year, a class of students in Flint completed similar training to gain entry-level positions in those fields.

“Consumers Energy is committed to providing opportunities in the communities we serve and excited to provide training that opens the door for more people to work in professions that serve our customers,” said Lauren Snyder, vice president of customer experience. “We’re finding new ways to support Michigan’s talent pipeline, building careers for people who will help Michiganders save money and live better lives.”

The program represents a partnership between us and Detroit-based Walker-Miller Energy Services, which has trained program participants in both communities. Walker-Miller is one of the nation’s largest African-American and woman-owned energy efficiency companies.

Program graduates are trained in classrooms and on the job before being placed in careers doing weatherization, energy efficiency and lead abatement work.

“I received very good on-the-job training and job placement afterward, which was very important to me,” said Brandon Thompson, who graduated from the Flint program. “I learned a lot that I can use in the field that I am working in currently. I am more comfortable doing my work tasks with the experience that I gained from the program.”

“Walker-Miller Energy Services is committed to creating equitable pathways within the clean energy economy so that all communities have access to the benefits of clean energy,” said Derrick Meeking, director of workforce development at Walker-Miller Energy Services. “We’re honored to work with the Flint and Jackson communities through our partnership with Consumers Energy, providing individuals access to the skills and opportunities needed to thrive in this rapidly growing industry. We are not just creating jobs, we’re also fostering a new generation of professionals who will drive positive change and economic growth in our communities.”

We are  moving forward with aggressive new efforts to help customers save money through energy efficiency. Our recently approved energy efficiency plan offers new and growing programs to connect with low-income households over the next two years.

“Whether we work with customers or train professionals to work with us, Consumers Energy is looking for ways to expand our outreach and connections with our friends and neighbors,” Snyder said.