Energy Efficiency and Social Justice: How Energy Efficiency Can Serve Underserved Communities

A report came out from ACEEE today finding that energy costs take up a greater percent of income in African-American, Latino, low-income, and low-income multi-family and renter households. The report looks at 48 cities across the United States – including Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco – and covers policies, programs and strategies to better reach these households. Some highlighted proposed strategies:

  • Improve and expand low-income utility programming
  • Collect, track and report demographic data on program participation
  • Strengthen policy levers and leverage existing programs
  • Use the Clean Power Plan to prioritize investment in low-income energy efficiency

California has made a number of policy and budgetary commitments to ensure climate and energy resources reach disadvantaged and underserved communities, including SB 535 and the requirements to ensure cap and trade funding reached disadvantaged communities. In the Governor’s proposed budget, we see numerous Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) funded programs with minimum funds that must reach and serve disadvantaged communities.

A recent study from UCLA finds that the effects of cap and trade are providing a net benefit to low-income communities.

Still, potential for greater support – and greater energy savings – remains. As covered in a California Clean Economy legislative hearing that took place earlier this year, low-income communities have been hard to reach to achieve deep energy savings and therefore still represent a major opportunity.

Local governments are particularly well-situated to connect with their local jurisdictions and help communities leverage and demonstrate the great demand for existing programs – and potentially showcase areas where more support is needed. Local governments can also lead by example by making energy efficiency improvements in their housing authorities and multi-family buildings, supporting innovative projects (like this City of Woodland zero net energy housing for agricultural workers), and making lasting energy-efficiency and housing partnerships (like this PG&E-Mendocino County local government partnership – or by connecting with new offerings by Grid Alternatives for free technical assistance for multi-family solar).

For more EE resources for underserved communities, click here.

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