On average, New Yorkers with a low or moderate income and New Yorkers of color pay a disproportionately higher percentage of their household income on energy. For many, their energy bill is their second largest monthly expense, behind rent. As a result, they often are forced to decide between paying their utility bill or paying for essential items like food and medicine – decisions no one should have to make.
These New Yorkers, which represent almost half the State, also tend to live in older, less energy-efficient homes. This further increases their energy burden, requiring more energy to heat their homes in the winter and cool them in the summer, and the extreme weather caused by climate change is only making it worse.
Even indoors, extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter impact the health and well-being of these New Yorkers. Extreme heat is the leading weather-related cause of death in America, with people of color dying at a far higher rate. Improving energy efficiency can mitigate these extremes and improve the health and well-being of these individuals, which also eases their economic burden by reducing the need for things like doctor’s visits, medicine, and even sick days. And every New Yorker will need to improve the energy efficiency of their homes if the State is going to meet its carbon reduction goals, which are among the strictest in the nation, required by the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act.
Under the current law, utilities are allowed to determine how to distribute the funds they collect from ratepayers for energy efficiency programs. These decisions are made behind closed doors, based on cost-benefit analyses that ignore the needs of these communities. And since the fees collected by utilities to fund energy efficiency programs are not based on income or need, not only are low-income New Yorkers and New Yorkers of color forced to contribute a disproportionately higher amount of their household income to fund these programs, but they are also disproportionately unable to benefit from these programs because the utilities determine how and where those funds are spent.
Existing energy efficiency programs – run by both the State and the utilities – ignore the needs and financial resources of these New Yorkers, favoring instead the low-hanging fruit that requires less effort, such as homeowners and businesses with sufficient disposable income to make the necessary upgrades. As a result, even the most basic energy efficiency measures are out of reach for families living paycheck to paycheck. Continuing to serve only cash-secure homeowners and business with these programs will perpetuate the negative health impacts of living in an energy inefficient home, leave us far short of our climate goals, and further systemic social-economic inequality.
Instead of continuing to ask for rate increases, utilities operating in New York State should spend the money they collect in a more equitable and effective manner. They should distribute these funds equitably, prioritizing public need instead of their own bottom line, so all New Yorkers can reap the benefits of energy efficiency – including improved health and well-being, reducing the percentage of income they spend on home energy, and helping New York State achieve its carbon reduction goals.
This is the purpose of the Energy Efficiency Equity & Jobs Act (S8052), which will ensure that half of New York isn’t left out in the cold. The legislation will 1) set equitable energy efficiency targets for utilities operating in New York State; 2) ensure that the resources utilities allocate to reach those standards are defined and distributed in a just and equitable manner that addresses the needs of low-income New Yorkers and New Yorkers of color; 3) as part of that just and equitable distribution, require utilities to use some of those resources for equitable job training programs in these communities, so that the people doing the energy efficiency improvements in low-income communities and communities of color are residents of those communities; and 4) require NYSERDA to track the distribution of these resources, including the investments that indirectly improve energy efficiency in these communities, so that the energy efficiency targets and resource allocations can be measured, monitored, and adjusted accordingly.
Passing the Energy Efficiency Equity & Jobs Act will help nearly half of the State’s 20 million residents lead healthier lives and avoid having to make monthly decisions between paying their energy bill and purchasing things like food and medicine. It will create jobs in communities where they are most needed, strengthening our economy, addressing systemic social injustices, and helping these communities resist displacement and social isolation. And it will also dramatically reduce unnecessary energy consumption, which is absolutely essential for meeting our carbon reduction goals.