Fall 2017 - 60680 - PA 680PA – Policy Research Project | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

Fall 2017 - 60680 - PA 680PA – Policy Research Project

Texas Low-Income Profiles Project

Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute

The Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute (TEPRI) is a collaboration of power market participants composed of a variety of public and private stakeholders, including:

  • Transmission companies
  • Municipal utilities
  • Community action and consumer rights organizations
  • Academia
  • IT and software companies
  • “Big data” companies
  • Energy consulting firms
  • Energy research and development firms

TEPRI aims to better understand and address energy and fuel poverty in Texas by advancing the collective knowledge concerning low-income households and their relationship to energy. TEPRI leverages its research to inform the effective and innovative delivery of technology and services, as well as to shape policy. Its mission is to inspire lasting energy solutions for low-income communities.

Course Overview

Texas is home to large pockets of low- and moderate-income (LMI) residents. The transition to a customer choice market in the early 2000s, permitting residents to choose the company from which they purchase electricity, led to low electricity prices and the hastening of innovation, but it severed many of the ties linking market actors and regulators to energy consumers. Today, Texas's electricity prices remain at historic lows, but current and future electricity prices aside, most Texans have not benefitted from the same level of sustained residential energy efficiency efforts—efforts which have led to improved indoor air quality and lower bills in other states. Deployment of residential distributed energy systems has accelerated but is still primarily limited to upper-income consumers in Texas’ two large municipal utility markets, Austin and San Antonio.

The full impact of the energy burden on LMI Texans is not known. To mitigate hardship and increase economic opportunities, a surprisingly difficult question must be answered: Who are Texas's LMI residents? The prominence of this question has grown for many years.

The purpose of this Policy Research Project is to contribute to a better understanding of this question, addressing it in a robust manner with the goal of enabling strategic decision-making among stakeholders in Texas’ electricity market—utilities, regulators, policymakers, nonprofits and service providers.

Course Objectives

TEPRI’s larger, ongoing research project, to which this PRP will contribute, is designed to deliver highly detailed information on Texas’ low-income population to stakeholders that may be utilized to:

  1. Reduce barriers to outreach and education
  2. Increase effectiveness of residential programs; including energy efficiency, distributed energy resources, and demand side management 
  3. Evaluate policy and market opportunities to address energy poverty issues
  4. Clearly define the LMI market to encourage technology innovation; and
  5. Explore models to use renewable energy technologies to reduce energy burdens

PRP Focus

The PRP will focus on the third phase of the larger research project and will involve analyzing the primary and supplemental data related to LMI household energy consumption, collected by TEPRI staff in earlier phases of the project, to begin to develop the project deliverables. In addition, students will be asked to develop and lead the qualitative portion of the study, including fielding additional surveys and conducting in-depth interviews with LMI Texans, to develop a richer understand of the context for the quantitative results.


Combining their analysis of the quantitative and supplemental data collected in the prior phases of the study with the findings from their qualitative research, students will produce multiple (#TBD) local profiles of LMI households, as well as a large statewide profile.

The aims of the students’ research and deliverables are twofold: to assist TEPRI in delivering on its mission to assist low- and middle-income households in meeting their energy needs, and to shape policy, locally and at the state level, regarding energy and fuel poverty.


LBJ Policy Research Project students will support TEPRI’s energy poverty survey through multiple means that are expected to be beneficial both to the larger project, and to the students as they are exposed to qualitative research tools, participate in rigorous academic research, and create policy-relevant documents based on their research. Contributions from, and skills developed by, student researchers will include:

  • Designing qualitative research instruments for the purposes of deepening their and TEPRI’s understanding of Texas’s low- and moderate-income population.
  • Conducting in-depth interviews with, and surveys of, low- and moderate-income residents.
  • Interview analysis using qualitative analysis techniques.
  • Collecting secondary data from official sources on energy usage among low- and moderate-income households.
  • Analyzing quantitative data.
  • Assisting with GIS integration of collected data into an interactive, web-based tool, designed to permit localized perspectives on the salient aspects of LMI consumer profiles.
  • Compiling local and statewide profiles that combine primary and secondary data collected on topics including household makeup, salient health factors, income, housing type and other demographic data.
  • Completing a policy research report that includes state and local level policy recommendations stemming from the primary and secondary data research findings.

TEPRI will also commit necessary financial resources to the project, provided primarily by private foundation funding, so student researchers do not incur personal expenses through their participation in the study. The project’s budget is still being finalized, but all costs incurred by student researchers will be reimbursed by, or billed to, TEPRI.

Finally, TEPRI will employ its network of stakeholders to assist with the project in various ways. These partners will assist in digesting primary and secondary quantitative data, as well as in disseminating study results. TEPRI will also engage student researchers in a presentation to disseminate preliminary findings to the LBJ and/or UT community at the study’s conclusion.


Grading policy will be based primarily on class participation, short writing assignments based on the week’s readings, and brief presentations. As PRPs are intended to, among other things, develop students’ ability to work collaboratively and manage time efficiently, a portion of the grade will be based on the quality team-based assignments. 

Major course assignments and due dates


Final exam and mid-terms



Under development


Under development

Notice for Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities may request appropriate academic accommodations from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Services for Students with Disabilities, 512-471-6259.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to respect the LBJ School's standards regarding academic dishonesty. You owe it to yourself, your fellow students and the institution to maintain the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior. A discussion of academic integrity, including definitions of plagiarism and unauthorized collaboration, as well as helpful information on citations, note taking and paraphrasing, can be found at the Office of the Dean of Students web page. (http://deanofstudents.utexas.edu/sjs/acint_student.php) and the Office of Graduate Studies (http://www.utexas.edu/ogs/ethics/transcripts/academic.html). The university has also established disciplinary procedures and penalty guidelines for academic dishonesty, especially Sec. 11.304 in Appendix C of the Institutional Rules on Student Services and Activities section in UT's General Information Catalog.

SRH 3.316/3.350