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Steve Lockwood

Steve Lockwood is executive director of the Frayser Community Development Corporation, which buys and renovates homes in the Frayser community for sale, lease/purchase and rent, and conducts homebuyer education classes and foreclosure counseling. Prior to joining the nonprofit world, he spent 15 years as a real estate developer specializing in residential rehabs.

MLGW rates are low, but still burden low-income residents

By Updated: May 04, 2019 3:31 PM CT | Published: May 04, 2019 3:06 PM CT

The city of Memphis and Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division have been at an impasse over the proposed hike in energy prices. The realities are these:

Utility rates in Memphis are low – too low. MLGW’s infrastructure is in need of investment. We are vulnerable, in the meantime, to frequent power outages.

On the other hand, low-income residents are heavily cost-burdened by utility costs — amazingly they are more heavily burdened than in any city in the country. Raising the cost burden on this population is really not an option.

This a rock and a hard place. Where does a solution lie?

I have found it interesting that no one – neither MLGW leadership nor Memphis City Council members – has proposed conservation measures to soften the blow to low-income families.

<strong>Steve Lockwood</strong>

Steve Lockwood

Why, given that utility rates are low, are we cost-burdened? Two reasons. First, much of our housing stock is in poor condition. Leaky houses with inefficient heating and cooling systems are expensive. Second, residents are not well-informed as to how to keep energy costs down. Heating to 85 degrees in winter while cooling to 68 in the summer is a recipe for bankruptcy.

The solutions? Conservation – put weatherization programs in place to cut consumption. Years ago TVA had a program to help finance storm windows. Institute programs to help owners and renters use less energy. Education – put widespread programs in place to help residents learn how to cut their consumption.

Yes, someone will say there are weatherization programs in place. They are a drop in the bucket. The proposed energy hikes would generate a great deal of new revenue. Why has no one proposed using 25% of these new revenues to help low-income families use less energy?

The truth is, MLGW rates really do need to rise, but neither MLGW nor the City Council has shown any sense, creativity or compassion in trying to make this happen. 

The Daily Memphian welcomes a diverse range of views and invites readers to submit guest columns by contacting Peggy Burch, community engagement editor, at pburch@dailymemphian.com.

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