As utility bills rise, low-income Americans struggle to access clean energy

As utility bills rise, low-income Americans struggle to access clean energy

Cindy Camp is one of many Americans facing rising utility costs. Ms. Camp, who lives in Baltimore with three members of her family, said her gas and electric bills have been rising — reaching $900 a month. Her family has tried to use less hot water by doing less laundry, and she now eats more fast food to save on the grocery bill.

Ms Camp would like to save money on energy bills by switching to more energy-efficient appliances such as heat pumps and solar panels. But she can’t afford it.

“Even maintaining food is a struggle for me,” Ms Camp said.

electricity bill growing across the countryAnd in Baltimore, electricity rates increased by approximately 30 percent Over the past decade, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While cleaner energy systems and more efficient appliances can help low-income households offset some of those increases, many face barriers to gaining access to those products.

are from low income families slow to adopt clean energy because they often lack of adequate savings Or they have a low credit score, which could hinder their work Ability to finance projects, Some people also find it difficult to navigate federal and state programs that would make installation more affordable, and there are many renters who cannot make the upgrades themselves.

Energy costs have traditionally been a major burden for low-income households, who typically spend a larger percentage of their gross income on utility bills than higher-income households. According to the Department of Energy, Many people also live in older, less efficient homes, which can lead to losses more expensive utility bills, In 2020, 34 million American households, or 27 percent of all households, reported difficulty paying their energy bills or kept their homes at unsafe temperatures due to energy cost concerns. According to the Energy Information Administration,

The Biden administration has deployed a raft of programs to try to expand access to clean energy lower household utility bills, These efforts are part of a broader effort to reduce carbon emissions in response to climate change, which often disproportionately affects Deprived communities.

This includes rebates for energy-efficient appliances and tax credits on the purchase of solar panels and electric cars. In recent months, administration officials have rewarded Funding for energy efficiency upgrades On federally subsidized housing properties. The federal government will also offer bonus tax credit To invest and provide clean energy in low-income areas billions to expand access For residential solar.

In remarks Wednesday about the administration’s efforts to make energy more affordable, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the policies could “immediately” help lower energy bills for low- and middle-income families. He said they are also promoting domestic clean energy manufacturing, which will reduce costs over time.

“This will make clean energy even more affordable for American consumers,” Ms. Yellen said at a community college in Boston.

Still, some advocates said reaching low-income communities would be a challenge for the administration’s investment.

“To me the problems people have in inner cities like Baltimore and everywhere else are the same: ‘Now we struggle to pay our bills,'” said Christal Hartsfield, chief executive of the National Alliance for Equity in Energy and Infrastructure. communities and companies on issues related to energy sector transformation. “We can’t switch to clean energy tomorrow.”

Although White House officials said they are providing technical assistance to help people gain access to the new programs, many people who want to take advantage of federal and state programs said they often face a major hurdle. Have to face: Paperwork.

Ms. Camp, 56, lives in a single-family home in a Northeast Baltimore neighborhood, where she has never seen any residents with solar panels on their homes or electric vehicles. Still, she wants solar power and a heat pump – if she can understand the application process in depth.

“It’s really discouraging,” said Ms. Camp, an AmeriCorps member. “The red tape is too thick.”

Patricia Johnson, a 68-year-old retired machine operator who lives with her husband in East Baltimore, said their home’s heater was more than two decades old and needed repair, but she was unable to pay the $10,000 to $15,000 to replace the system. Were.

Ms. Johnson said she was having a hard time figuring out what assistance programs she qualified for, so she went to a nearby community center run by GEDCO, a local nonprofit. Ms. Johnson later learned that she qualified for a state program that funds energy efficiency upgrades, but the paperwork was still difficult to complete and she would not have applied without guidance.

Laurel Peltier, president of the Maryland Energy Advocates Coalition and a volunteer at GEDCO, who worked with Ms. Johnson, said most of the people she helped did not have computers or printers, making it difficult for them to apply and get the information available. It became difficult to know about. Program.

“Government agencies have a lot of work to do to effectively deliver programs to low-income people,” Ms. Peltier said.

the nation’s largest municipal utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; National Renewable Energy Laboratory; And the University of California, Los Angeles recently released the first comprehensive study of some of the impacts of the energy transition on low-wealth consumers. The study highlights growing disparities in Los Angeles between those who can afford clean energy upgrades and those who cannot.

Part of the reality, as Los Angeles acknowledged in its study and as some energy experts have argued, is that the public is poorly informed about energy issues as well as about the move toward and available clean energy technologies. There is a need to educate.

Experts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory say the energy transition will require broad participation from utilities and electricity providers as well as low-income and wealthy Americans. This means that more effort will need to be made to include those who can least afford it.

Although many of the new rebates are generous, they still can’t cover the full cost of clean energy products, said Diana Hernandez, associate professor of social sciences and co-director of the Energy Opportunity Lab at the Columbia Center on Global Energy. Policy. The cost of heat pumps, which can heat and cool homes more efficiently than typical furnaces and air conditioners, varies, but the average installation cost is $16,000. The new exemptions, which are not yet available, will only deduct up to $8,000 from those systems.

can take tax credit cover 30 percent Cost of installing solar panels. But many low-income people don’t owe enough in taxes to take full advantage of them, and the average cost of a residential solar system is approximately $25,000According to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

If low-income families are already struggling to afford essential expenses, those families are less likely to upgrade, Ms. Homeowners may not be incentivized to make efficiency upgrades. Hernandez said.

However, he said people can subscribe to a portion of the energy generated by “community solar” projects, which are off-site solar systems or lease panels.

After conducting its study, Los Angeles increased its rebate for used electric vehicles from a maximum of $2,500 to $4,000 for qualifying consumers. And the city said it would build and operate its own fast-charging network in low-income communities.

Without such efforts, experts say the energy transition will only work against those who can least afford to participate.

“This energy transition, we’re still trying to figure it out,” said Stephanie Pinsettel, a professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and director of the university’s California Center for Sustainable Communities, who participated. Los Angeles Study. “We have to get this right otherwise it will worsen inequality.”

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