Energy justice was the topic of OurEnergyPolicy’s October 28, 2020, webinar—focusing on energy affordability for low-income and marginalized communities. One in three American households faces some sort of energy insecurity, such as a challenge affording their energy bills or trouble keeping their home a healthy temperature. Michael Dorsey (Co-Founding Partner, IberSun Solar), Tony Reames (Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and director of the Urban Energy Justice Lab), and Devra Wang (Program Director at the Heising-Simons Foundation)—with moderator Dan Kammen (Professor, UC Berkeley)—discussed these challenges and potential solutions.
Pandemic-specific solutions for energy insecure households could include aid through the HEROES Act and CARES Act and continuing the state moratoria on electricity service shutoffs. Many states instituted these moratoria at the beginning of the pandemic to protect Americans under increased financial stress, but many moratoria are now being lifted. Viewing energy as a basic right might also be helpful in ensuring energy access for all people.
Current programs that could be expanded are weatherization programs—which reduce people’s energy bills by making their homes more energy-efficient—and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)—a federal bill-payment assistance program implemented at the local level. Panelists mentioned the Energy Efficiency for All coalition, which focuses on energy efficiency retrofits, and Michigan Saves, which provides a finance infrastructure to drive efficiency and renewable projects. We could keep protections in government programs that prevent landlords from raising rent after home retrofits. In addition, state energy efficiency programs might be improved by updating outdated cost-benefit frameworks.
Panelists also mentioned investment, good data, renewable energy, and inclusion as factors to incorporate for energy justice solutions. A study found that a lack of investment from corporations in poor communities was one reason why LED light bulbs were less available and more expensive in those communities. Data may be the key to bringing problems to light, such as the frequency of utility disconnections. The low cost of solar power may provide a good opportunity to deliver Americans electricity that is affordable and also clean. Also, including people from marginalized communities on advisory boards and in decision-making roles is an important part of solving energy justice issues and making energy more affordable for all Americans.