PACE Lifts Energy Burden in Los Angeles County

November 06, 2008
November/December 2008
A version of this article appears in the November/December 2008 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Founded in 1976 to address the employment and job training needs of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) communities of Los Angeles, the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE) has broadened both the services it offers and its target population to include all ethnic and immigrant populations within one of the nation’s leading melting pots. Los Angeles County is home to the largest percentage of both Hispanics and APIs in the United States. According to the 2006 Census, Hispanics make up 46.8% of the county’s population of 9,948,081, while APIs make up 13.4%.

PACE now offers six major programs that serve more than 33,000 low-income individuals and families in the county of Los Angeles each year.  Founded in 1980, one of the first of these programs was our Environmental Services program. Today PACE’s program offerings include, in addition to our Environmental Services program, Early Childhood Education, Business Development, Asset Building, Affordable Housing, and Job Training and Placement.  

PACE staff are proficient in more than 26 languages and cultures. This knowledge of both language and culture is key to effective implementation of all programs, including the Environmental Services program. Staff fluency in English, Spanish, Korean, three dialects of Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Amharic, and Tagalog, enables staff to work with ethnic communities often isolated from other programs by language and culture.

PACE’s Environmental Services program is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Department of Energy (DOE) grants administered by the California Department of Community Services and Development (CSD).  In addition, PACE has contracts with both Southern California Edison and Southern California Gas Company to provide a wide range of services, including ethnic outreach, inspections, and installations.  

PACE’s Environmental Services program emphasizes education to promote energy conservation awareness.  It also provides free installation of measures to reduce home energy consumption and lower energy bills for low-income households.  Clients reflect Los Angeles County’s demographic profile.  Ethnic and minority groups, many of whom speak little English, account for more than 80% of program participants.  For example, during 2007, the most recent program year, Latinos accounted for over 33%, APIs almost 20%, and Blacks over 33% of total clients served.   

Program eligibility is determined by income guidelines set by HHS.  Priority is given to households that spend the greatest percentage of their income to pay their utility bills. (HHS estimates that low-income households spend nearly 15% of their annual income on energy, while the national average is 4%.)  Priority is also given to low-income households with members who are elderly or disabled, and to families with young children.

Low-income minority families benefit from the installed energy conservation measures, which reduce home energy consumption and improve the safety of their homes while lowering their energy bills. Before installation, each participating household must prove that they meet the income guidelines by providing the appropriate documentation.  Their home is then inspected and evaluated for whole-house energy efficiency by PACE staff. A trained combustion appliance safety (CAS) technician tests all gas appliances in the home for CO emissions, and a CO detector is installed to warn the household if CO emissions have risen to dangerous levels. The program will also repair or replace furnaces; install weatherstripping, gaskets, and caulk to reduce air infiltration; and repair or replace windows and doors. These measures alone can reduce gas space-heating costs by up to 34% annually. Water conservation devices, such as low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, are installed.  Old and inefficient refrigerators, microwave ovens, and halogen torchieres are replaced with more efficient devices, and incandescent lightbulbs are replaced with CFLs.  

PACE also works with local utility companies to provide energy conservation education, intake, outreach, assessment, and quality assurance inspections to low-income families that are not enrolled in the program. Qualifying households are also provided with utility bill assistance once per year through the federal Home Energy Assistance program (HEAP), also funded by HHS through LIHEAP. With the cost of gasoline and groceries and everything else on the rise, PACE HEAP clients must sometimes choose between buying food or medicine and paying their utility bills. Clients who receive disconnection notices from the utility are paid through HEAP. Payment varies with the size of the household and its income, and payment goes directly to the utility. The PACE Environmental Services program includes an Energy and Financial Counseling class. Participants are also given a video that teaches behavioral adjustments and encourages them to save energy and make their limited income go farther.

As a proactive participant in energy conservation and environmental concerns, PACE is developing other innovative ways to help low-income households save money on their energy bills. Through its participation in the state of California’s Solar Pilot programs in 2007, PACE installed solar water-heating systems on low-income homes, to replace gas water heaters. These solar-thermal systems can cut gas usage by 40%. These savings are especially significant for low-income families, and they will become more significant as the price of gas goes up.  Over the last ten years, the price of piped natural gas has more than doubled.

In 1973, DOE created the Weatherization  program to assist households burdened with high energy costs. This program represents a cost-effective investment of taxpayer dollars and provides long-term relief to low-income households.  It helps to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil by an equivalent of 15 million barrels each year.  Other benefits include increased property values, improved air quality, and conservation of our natural resources.   More such programs should be encouraged, including programs that promote the installation of solar water heaters. After all, the sun’s energy is free and the supply is unlimited! PACE is proud to have been a provider of weatherization services to its low-income constituency for the past 26 years. We will continue to move forward in our mission to help our constituents to save energy, to improve air quality, and to conserve natural resources for future generations.    

Slavisa Spajic, Sion Ferrer, and Carol Gallant are staff members of PACE in Los Angeles, California.

For more information:
Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE)
1055 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 900E
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Tel: (213) 353-3982 / Fax: (213) 989-3232
Web: www.pacelaenergy.org / www.pacela.org
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