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CUB receives state grant to improve energy efficiency programs for underserved populations

Published January 29, 2021

CUB is pleased to announce that we received funding from the Minnesota Department of Commerce in the form of a Conservation Applied Research and Development (CARD) grant. The research project to be funded is titled Analysis of New or Modified Energy Efficiency Programs to Increase Energy Savings of Underserved Populations. It’s a long title that encapsulates the need to ensure energy efficiency program design addresses existing inequities in the programs, which in turn better helps populations who are most burdened with energy costs.

For almost two years, CUB has been part of a community-based effort called the Energy Efficiency Peer Learning Cohort that has a goal to seek improvements to energy efficiency programs so that they better serve renter, low-income, and BIPOC households. This grant will support this ongoing effort.     

Overall, Minnesota utilities’ energy efficiency programs perform very well. Studies, including a 2015 CARD-funded study by the Cadmus Group, consistently demonstrate substantial economic and societal benefits from CIP for the population as a whole. 

However, the benefits of these programs are not distributed equitably. Renters, and BIPOC Minnesotans in particular, are underserved by the CIP programs to which they contribute as ratepayers. A 2017 low-income CIP evaluation found, for example, that approximately 80% of the low-income CIP funding for CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy natural gas efficiency programs went towards programs that were likely to serve owner-occupied single family homes. BIPOC households are much more likely to be renters: 44% of Minnesota households of color own their homes, compared with 77% of white households. According to the City of Minneapolis,  in Minneapolis, 81% of black households rent, compared with 43% of white households. BIPOC households are also much more likely to have lower incomes than their white counterparts — and so stand to benefit more by lowering energy bills through conservation. 

This CARD grant-funded project will develop a set of energy efficiency program design best practices to support utilities and conservation program improvement (CIP) implementers. There will be an emphasis placed on providing culturally responsive energy efficiency services to historically underserved populations in the Twin Cities.          

The issues of equity, environmental justice, and systemic racism require additional attention. The best practices guide will be based on research from previous studies, findings from previous community engagement projects, and new, targeted engagement work with underserved, culturally specific populations. This project will provide a more detailed understanding of the unique barriers to accessing services that currently exist, as well as specific strategies to overcome those barriers.           

CUB is partnering on this project with consultants from Efficiency for Everyone and TerraLuna Collaborative as well as the City of Minneapolis and non-profit Community Power. Involvement from community members, advocates, and energy experts will be an important part of this project.   

The work kicked off this month. Please look for updates in the upcoming months.

Author: Carmen Carruthers

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