East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) is now Ava Community Energy (Ava). New name, new look. Same clean energy, low rates, and local programs.

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January 24, 2024

From the CEO's Desk Newsletter

Photo of EBCE CEO Nick Chaset

Home Electrification Leads to Better Health and Safety

Electricity is a matter of life and death for many. Ava is providing backup batteries and clean cooking to improve public health and safety.

Early one morning, Ibrahim Yusuf of Fremont was awakened by a disturbing sound.

“It was about 5:00 in the morning and I woke up to the sound of a very loud alarm coming from my ventilators,” he recalls. The power had gone out.

While an outage in the wee hours may not be noticed by many of us, for Ibrahim it was an emergency. Ibrahim relies on two ventilators to breathe and an electric wheelchair for mobility.

“I was absolutely worried about power outages,” he said in a video produced for Ava.

When the outage came he and his family had to scramble.

“My dad had the idea of routing power from the battery in his car,” he says. “That is when I really started to think about alternate power solutions.”

Batteries to the Rescue

Only a couple days after the outage Ibrahim got a newsletter from EBCE (now Ava) about the portable battery rebate. “I applied for it right away,” he says.

The battery he got is able to power his ventilator for up to two days on a single charge.

“It gives me a huge peace of mind,” he says. “It makes me feel special knowing I’m one of the first participants, and I’m hoping other people in my situation get this opportunity. EBCE really helped me out and I want this program to continue to help others.”

Ibrahim is one of about 19,000 Ava customers on the “medical baseline” rate, for customers with a serious medical condition who rely on the use of powered medical devices. They qualify for discounts worth about $50 per month on electric bills, with further savings on gas bills.

When PG&E implemented Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events to minimize the risk of wildfires, Ava saw an urgent need to make sure medical baseline customers were protected.

Ava initially gave out 50 portable batteries to medical baseline customers in high fire risk areas, which are most likely to lose power in a PSPS event.

To scale the program, Ava switched to a $1000 rebate for a portable battery, the GoalZero Yeti 3000X portable power station. The wheel-mounted three kilowatt-hour battery can power a CPAP ventilator for 47 hours, among other things.

What a Yeti 3000x can power. (Source: GoalZero)

So far Ava has received 200 applications and paid out 130 rebates.

Health-e Communities

Ava is also helping to improve the health of customers by replacing gas stoves with clean electric stoves.

Gas ranges emit nitrogen oxides, fine particulates, and benzene that have been shown to contribute to health impacts. The effect is compounded in homes that don’t have or use ventilation, such as oven hoods, and are worse for people with respiratory conditions.

In October the Ava board approved a new three-year $15 million program to swap out gas ovens for clean induction ranges in up to 2,000 homes of Ava customers in Alameda and San Joaquin Counties. The program will focus on low-income households with children where one or more residents suffer from asthma or chronic pulmonary disease.

Ava will start with a pilot program through June 2024, doing up to 200 induction stove retrofits for CARE and Medical Baseline customers. The pilot will also seek to recruit local contractors to do the electrical work required to switch from gas to induction cooking. Indoor air quality impacts will be measured and participants will be surveyed about their use of the ranges and impacts of switching to cleaner cooking. Ava will cover the full cost of purchasing the induction range and completing the electrical work required to install the appliance for this program.

Results from the pilot will guide future expansion of the program, with the goal of reaching 2,000 homes before 2026 and completing a health impacts analysis for participants in the program. The pilot will help determine accurate program costs and feasibility.

“In addition to the health benefits, we are introducing people to an electric appliance that is far superior to its gas equivalent,” says JP Ross, director of local programs for Ava. “The induction top has faster cooking, more control, and it’s safer since the surface doesn’t get hot. It’s about four times as energy efficient as a gas cooktop.”

He thinks it can also be a gateway to more electrification. “Other electric appliances do their job, but an induction range is more noticeable than a water heater,” he says. “It’s like driving an electric car; you never want to go back, and people can see and feel the benefits of electrifying their home.”

Ava is pursuing external funding for the healthcare research component of Health-e Communities, applying for a grant from the federal office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to fund the air quality monitoring portion of the work. A health research partner has not yet been selected.

Customers who are looking to upgrade to an electric range and do not qualify for Health-e Communities are eligible for a federal tax credit for induction stoves of up to $840 plus another $250 from the regional energy efficiency agency BayREN.

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