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Utility efficiency programs offer model to merge climate, racial justice solutions

July 2, 2020

Energy News Network

Kari Lydersen

Many states require utilities to help low-income customers conserve energy despite higher costs and barriers.

As urgency grows to simultaneously address climate change and racial justice through proposals like the Green New Deal, low-income energy efficiency programs provide a potential example of how to merge the priorities. 

The time is right to bolster such programs since the pandemic’s economic effects mean more households will likely need assistance with energy bills, advocates say. 

Studies — including a recent one by Lawrence Berkeley Livermore National Laboratory — show that dollar for dollar, the biggest efficiency gains can be made by investing in commercial and industrial energy conservation, while efficiency programs targeting low-income customers are among the least cost-effective.

However, many consumer groups, utilities, researchers and other stakeholders agree: The benefits provided by helping low-income customers are wide-ranging, and especially important to advance racial equity and protect vulnerable people in times like these.

“For low-income households, those savings can really make a difference,” said Annie Levenson-Falk, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board in Minnesota. “Almost a third of households in the U.S. struggle to pay their energy bill, and it’s even higher for Black and Latino households. Now you have the economic effects from the pandemic exacerbating energy burdens overall and particularly for households of color. Energy efficiency can make a real difference there.”

Across the Midwest, legislative and policy efforts are underway to bolster low-income energy efficiency programs and remove barriers to participation, efforts that are also expected to create jobs in communities and sectors hard-hit by the pandemic-related recession. 

Read more.

Author: Hannah Hoeger

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