More than one in five of Albertan households pay more than double the national average of the percentage of their income on their utility bills. Empower Me, Alberta’s first energy efficiency program targeted at hard-to-reach communities, bridges cultural and language gaps by informing people from multilingual, multicultural, and vulnerable communities about important energy and utility consumer protection education. Michelle Riccetto, Business Development Manager at Empower Me, says that “Albertans struggling to pay high energy bills is not just about struggling with low incomes, it’s about living in housing that has had little upgrades (like old furnaces or under-functioning insulation) and not being able to invest in an upgrade because it requires capital upfront.”
Empower Me hires Energy Mentors who are already rooted in their communities to connect people with information about consumer choices, rebates, savings, and safety. The group also works with existing organizations like the food bank and family services to host workshops in 16 different languages on energy efficiency. Since expanding to Alberta in 2018, Empower Me has created 25 jobs to newcomers within the province who are often underrepresented and underemployed, including Energy Mentors, program administration, and program management positions.
An energy savings kit worth $90 is given to all eligible participants who attend an Empower Me workshop. Empower Me has also just finished its Home Upgrades pilot program, which helps Albertans who cannot afford renovations that will reduce their utility bills. Over 100 homes in the province benefited, reducing each home’s utility bill by an average of $1,800 over the life of the measures. Empower Me received applications from 1,700 families across the province, making it apparent that this program is much needed.
Riccetto adds that winning the Emerald Award will mean “more Albertans will learn about Empower Me and our commitment to ensure every hardworking Albertan, from newcomers and Indigenous people to seniors and lower income families, receives the consumer protection information they need to ensure they can keep energy costs affordable.”