Bridging the Clean Energy Divide

When you live on a fixed income, reducing monthly electricity bills can make a big difference in your daily life. Lower energy costs mean more money for food, health care and other important parts of raising a family.

new study, Bridging the Clean Energy Divide, released by NRDC found that clean energy solutions like efficient appliances and wind and solar power are already helping seniors on fixed-incomes and low income families save money and make their homes safer, more comfortable places to live.

The report also confirms that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan will spread these benefits to millions of Americans.

The plan calls for cutting carbon pollution from power plants, a leading contributor to climate change. And it shows how this can be done through energy efficiency and renewable energy. The EPA expects electricity bills to drop by 8 percent as a result. NRDC analysis shows that with stronger standards, residential and business customers could save a total of $37.4 billion on electric bills in 2020 alone. As report author Katharine McCormick says, “The poor and elderly already devote a large portion of their income to energy costs, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The reliability of fossil fuels has been overstated. When we diversify our energy portfolio and invest in efficient and renewable sources like solar and wind, we help improve reliability, decrease our dependence on the market, and insulate people — especially the poor — from unpredictable coal and gas price spikes.”

Clean energy benefits all Americans, but it helps low-income families in particular. While the average U.S. household spends 2.9 percent of their income on electricity bills, low-income households spend 8.3 percent on electricity — and more when energy prices spike. Clean energy benefits all Americans, but it helps low-income families in particular. While the average U.S. household spends 2.9 percent of their income on electricity bills, low-income households spend 8.3 percent on electricity — and more when energy prices spike. Studies show that people of color and low-income families are more likely to live near conventional power plants, increasing the risk of respiratory illness and other health problems linked to pollution. These impacts are made worse for many people by existing health challenges, lack of access to medical care, and inequities in education, employment, and civil rights.

And as Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley, Pastor Emeritus of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA wrote, “Climate change is a civil rights issue. We are seeing its impacts in our own communities in the form of record-breaking temperatures, floods, droughts, hurricanes, and the list goes on and on. When your children suffer from asthma and cannot go outside to play, as is the case for many in Atlanta, it is a civil rights issue. When unprecedented weather disasters devastate the poorest neighborhoods in places like New Orleans, New Jersey, and New York, it is a civil rights issue.”

Energy efficiency and wind and solar power can reduce these health and financial burdens and help us reach a more equitable energy mix.

Mae Conway experienced this firsthand. Conway lives in affordable housing in Kansas City. She depends on an oxygen tank, breathing machine, and sleep apnea machine, all of which require a lot of energy. Conway used to turn the lights and television off as much as possible so she could afford to pay for electricity to treat her respiratory problems.

Then something changed. Thanks to Energy Efficiency for All, a partnership between NRDC, the National Housing Trust and local affordable housing partners, Conway’s building got upgraded with efficient appliances, windows, and insulation, and Conway started saving up to $40 a month on electricity bills. She has more money in her pocket and can keep her medical machines running.

Clean energy initiatives like this are emerging across the country. The How$martKY program is helping rural families invest in energy efficiency improvements. Community solar projects are lowering energy costs for low-income neighborhoods by pooling resources and allowing people to buy as much or as little renewable energy as they can afford.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan will dramatically expand efforts to bring efficiency and renewable power to all Americans — including low-income families. If the EPA strengthens the standards, the state plans would have the added benefit of creating more than 274,000 jobs and delivering more than $50 billion in added health and environmental savings.

It’s no surprise the vast majority of Americans support the EPA’s plan for cutting carbon pollution. Yet fossil fuel companies and their allies in Congress are trying to block carbon limits at every turn. They promote false claims that energy costs will go up and that not all communities can shift to renewable power.

If vulnerable populations lack access to clean energy, the solution is not to continue our dependence on dirty fossil fuels but to make clean energy more accessible and affordable. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan and state leadership will help achieve that. And millions of families will have more money in their pockets and more comfortable places to live as a result.

This article was originally published on NRDC and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Solar panels roof. Credit: Shutterstock.

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For over 25 years, I have worked with partners from around the world as an environmental advocate. At NRDC, I have moved from working internationally to helping guide all of our work in the United States and around the world. I'm proud to fight beside our many partners around the world and here at home on behalf of people and the environment. Follow me on twitter @CaseyLefkowitz

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