On Monday, over 200 Knoxville citizens gathered at The Square Room in downtown Knoxville for the Mayoral Candidate Forum hosted by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).
It was the largest of several candidate forums thus far and proved that energy issues are a hot topic for Knoxvillians.
Moderated by Andre Canty of the Highlander Research and Education Center, candidates Indya Kincannon, Fletcher ‘Knoxville’ Burkhart, Calvin Taylor Skinner, Marshall Stair and Eddie Mannis answered questions and gave their insight into the burdens Knoxvillians face within the energy sector and what their plans would be for negotiating with KUB (Knoxville Utilities Board) and TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority)
According to CleanEnergy.org
Progress on energy is a priority for Knoxville
Two forum questions addressed the issue of high energy burdens, or portion of income spent on energy, prevalent in Knoxville’s low-income and minority communities and worsened by high fixed fees on KUB electric bills. Candidates discussed approaches to work with KUB to bring down fixed fees and incentivize weatherization and energy savings measures for customers most in need. Mayoral candidates Fletcher Burkhardt, Indya Kincannon, Eddie Mannis, Calvin Skinner, and Marshall Stair appeared to find common ground on these issues.
Low-income Energy Burdens in Knoxville by Census Tract
Candidates acknowledged the $19 and soon to be $20.50 monthly mandatory fixed fee or “basic customer charge” on electric bills, which KUB claims helps pay for infrastructure upgrades, disproportionately impacts low-income and fixed income users and puts our most vulnerable communities at risk, which Burkhardt summed up as “unacceptable.” Skinner stated that “KUB Board knows the fixed fees are too damn high, TVA knows the fixed fees are too damn high,” and that “it’s time for us to act.”
Stair explained the impact, stating that, “[A fixed fee] doesn’t incentivize weatherization. If most of your bill is fixed costs, it doesn’t matter how much energy you consume.” Many candidate comments echoed sentiments from the SEEED forum where, just days before, “unaffordable utilities” was highlighted as one of the top three issues Knoxvillians face.
Kincannon stated she “opposes regressive fixed rates,” and pointed out that “better ways to finance fixed costs are being done in other cities and KUB knows there are other ways.” She stated a desire to work with KUB to find a revenue neutral way to work on a “KEEM 2.0.” The Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover (KEEM) was a program that ended in 2017 where TVA provided $15 million to weatherize low-income homes in Knoxville. TVA funding for weatherization and other energy savings programs has since plummeted.
The five candidates supported energy efficiency as one of the best solutions to relieve energy burdens, but recognized the high fixed fee isn’t conducive to lowering household energy costs and incentivizing energy efficiency upgrades in homes that will lower energy consumption, reduce carbon emissions, and make homes and communities healthier.
Full video of the forum can be watched below:
Angela Dennis is a Freelance Writer and Blogger residing in Knoxville, TN. Her work has been featured in multiple publications both local and national such as Knox News Sentinel, Blavity, Black Sports Online, Black Girl Nerds, etc.