Energy Awareness Month: Alleviating energy burden for low-income communities
October 1 marked the start of Energy Awareness Month, a time to learn about the many moving parts of the energy industry, to consider your own energy use and ways you might lessen it, and maybe even to explore greener options for your home’s heating or cooling equipment.
One topic that you might explore is energy burden, which the U.S. Department of Energy defines as “the percentage of gross household income spent on energy costs” — a.k.a. the amount of your paycheck that goes toward utility bills. Low-income households that bring in less money than average- or higher-income households have a higher energy burden — a higher percentage of their income that must go toward paying to keep their homes comfortable and safe. That is why CEE implements a variety of programs specifically to help alleviate the energy burdens of low-income communities, a handful of which are highlighted below.
According to the Minnesota Housing Partnership’s 2019 State of the State’s Housing report, there were 108,109 owner households last year that were severely burdened by costs. Energy bills lurk among those costs. Because of this, CEE implements a number of programs to lessen the energy burden of low-income residents in single-family homes. The following are two such programs:
Low-Income Home Energy Squad: Home Energy Squad (HES) is a direct-install home energy audit program available to customers of Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy who live in 1–4-unit homes (including single-family homes and rentals within that range). Under the low-income model, free visits are available to qualified households. See the guidelines for income qualifications here, on the HES website under FAQs.
Greater Minnesota Gas: CEE administers home audit and weatherization programs on behalf of Greater Minnesota Gas for single-family homes in rural communities, many of which often have a high proportion of low-income residents.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Worst Case Housing Needs 2017 Report to Congress, 64% of renters in the United States have low incomes. As multifamily properties are often rentals, several CEE programs targeting those buildings directly impact low-income tenants. Here’s some quick info on two of those programs:
Minneapolis 4d Affordable Housing Incentive Program: This program helps preserve affordable housing and decrease utility costs for low-income tenants. Staff help property owners of affordable housing sign up for audits, provide energy assessments, and navigate rebates and city funding.
Multifamily Direct Install Program: CEE implements energy audits, upgrades, and direct installation of energy-saving products for multifamily buildings on behalf of Minnesota Energy Resources and several other greater Minnesota utilities. Energy savings from direct product installs notably reduce tenants’ overall energy burden. This program serves both market-rate and affordable housing, with higher incentives available for the latter. Of all properties served, 30%–50% have been income qualified.
Stay tuned for more posts celebrating Energy Awareness Month, including tips for this winter on how to keep warm while getting your utility bills to chill out.
This post is part of a series of blogs exploring the ways in which CEE’s work overlaps with low-income communities across the areas we serve in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.