April 22, 2016—The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and Energy Efficiency For All (EEFA) recently released a report titled, “Lifting the High Energy Burden in America’s Largest Cities: How Energy Efficiency Can Improve Low-Income and Underserved Communities.” The report explores how high home energy burden affects low-income, African American, and Latino households in major U.S. cities. Energy burden refers to the amount a household pays for its energy relative to its income. In addition to paying a higher percentage of their monthly income on utilities, the report states families facing higher energy burdens are also more likely to experience negative long-term effects on their health and well-being.
The study analyzed data from the 2011 and 2013 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Surveys and gathered data samples from 48 major metropolitan areas. What the report found was that, on average, low-income households (which was defined as at or below 80 percent area median income) pay 7.2 percent of their household income on utilities. That is over three times as much as households with higher incomes pay at 2.3 percent. The highest average energy burden existed in the southeast and Midwestern parts of the U.S.
The report also found that low-income households, renters, African American households and Latino households all paid more for utilities per square foot than the average household. This, the report suggests, could indicate that these low-income households reside in less efficient housing.
The report suggested several strategies for alleviating this elevated home energy burden. It found that bringing housing stock up to the efficiency of the average U.S. home would eliminate 35 percent of the average low-income energy burden. Such efficiency measures would help African American households see a 42 percent reduction of the excess energy burden, while Latino homes would see a 68 percent reduction.
The report also suggested that states should prioritize increasing energy efficiency programs as a way to compliment bill assistance and weatherization programs. They suggest targeting multifamily buildings with energy efficiency investments, strengthening low-income targets and goals for utility programs, and opting into the Clean Power Plan’s Clean Energy Incentive Program in order to receive early credits for efficiency projects in low-income communities.
Sources: Press Release