Bioenergy, Geothermal, Hydropower, Solar, Wind Power

Could Renewables Help with Low-Income Heating Assistance?

Many low-come individuals are on fuel assistance. The elderly and people with disabilities who needed such assistance struggled to keep warm this past winter waiting to get on the program. According to a magazine article, the fuel assistance program costs a billion dollars due to the high cost of fossil and natural gas. If 20 percent of today’s energy came from renewable energy, would it have helped tremendously those on low-come tremendously to afford heating bills? Sincerely, Paul R – Massachusetts

Paul, Thank you for your thoughtful question. While approximately 5 percent of annual income is spent on all energy bills for the average American household, the households that are poor spend more than 20 percent on energy annually, depending upon the fuel source and location. Each year, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through its LIHEAP program helps more than 4.5 million low-income families across America pay the costs of heating their homes in the winter and cooling their homes in the summer. LIHEAP programs offer the following types of assistance: bill payment assistance, energy crisis assistance and weatherization and energy-related home repairs. The FY 2005 omnibus appropriations bill allocated over USD $1.6 billion to the states. Another US agency, the US Department of Energy (DOE) also has State Grant Programs which include the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and State Energy Programs. In January 2003, an Oak Ridge National Laboratory study concluded that the under $50 million State Energy Program saved $256,422,600. DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program is one of this country’s longest running energy programs. The 2005 Budget included $291 million for this program, During the last 27 years, the U.S. Department of Energy ‘s (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program has provided weatherization services to more than 5.3 million low-income families and in 2005, the goal is to weatherize 92,500 homes addressing air conditioning and warm climate weatherization measures, electrical appliances and weatherization base load measures including insulation, weatherstripping, window repairs and fuel oil heater adjustments. Except for the State Energy Programs run by the State Energy Offices, very little has been done to substitute renewable energy for volatile-price fuels such as fuel heating oil and natural gas, as well as electricity in the traditional HHS LIHEAP and DOE Weatherization programs. Solar water heating has been used in Florida and Hawaii at times. However, the State Energy Offices and the locally-based Community Action Agencies have been the vanguards of implementing high value efficiency and renewable energy. But it’s up to the US Congress to change direction of having taxpayers underwrite almost $2 billion of low-income utility bills per year to substituting one-time investments in solar, small wind, ground-coupled heat pumps, cogeneration and district heating, microhydropower and other applications to provide electricity, heating and cooling — providing energy on a stable, dependable basis. – Scott Sklar