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67% of Low-Income U.S. Households Face High Energy Burden

Two out of three low-income households in the United States face disproportionately steep energy bills, says a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

Defined as the need to put more than 6% of household income toward heating and electricity, a high energy burden is carried by 67% of low-income households in America, writes Utility Dive. And the increased odds of suffering profound energy inequity rise shockingly for Hispanic, Black, or Native American families: compared to white households, Hispanic families “spend more than 20% of their income on energy costs,” while Black and Native American families spend a whopping 43% and 45%, respectively.

And “the energy burden is estimated to be even worse now for the named communities due to the pandemic and recession,” notes Utility Dive. The report identifies several key socioeconomic factors that have an impact, including “sudden and long-term financial hardships and/or difficulty affording energy efficiency investment.” Other factors include “housing age, housing type (e.g. single family vs. multi-family), heating and cooling system, building envelope (e.g. insulation, leaks, building sealing), and appliance and lighting efficiency”—all physical factors that are “really important” in terms of energy efficiency.

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“Low-income households who have a high burden tend to live in older buildings with less efficient appliances and use more energy per square foot,” said ACEEE senior research associate Ariel Drehobl. Renting also increases the energy burden, with households who don’t own their homes suffering “about a 13% higher energy burden” than their home-owning peers. Renters can also “be beholden to landlords’ willingness to implement energy efficiency measures.”

To reduce this inequity, the report recommends accelerating investment in energy efficiency programs and weatherization upgrades, while recognizing—and addressing—systemic racism at the policy level, including redlining, mass incarceration, lack of schools, and employment discrimination.