Nearly a third of U.S. households struggle to afford their energy bills, with one in five cutting back on or forgoing necessities such as food or medicine to pay for electricity and heat, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Some 14 percent have received a disconnection notice, and 10 percent keep temperatures at unsafe levels to reduce costs. Of those struggling, about half are black and 40 percent are Latino.
This growing divide in energy affordability and accessibility highlights the need for what University of Michigan researcher Tony Reames refers to as “energy justice.” For decades, low-income households have tried to cope with rising energy costs. Yet, as Reames’ research shows, they often have the least access to energy-efficient or clean energy technologies. He and colleagues have found that the cost to upgrade to energy-efficient lightbulbs is twice as expensive in low-income neighborhoods as it is in more affluent areas. They have also found that for every dollar Michigan utilities spend on energy efficiency programs targeted at low-income consumers, they spend as much as $4.34 on programs for higher-income consumers.
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