Want to learn how to lower your electric bill and make your home more comfortable? Turns out, lots of folks do. Appalachian Voices, in partnership with Resource Media, conducted a Facebook survey last month in parts of Western North Carolina and the results from 300 respondents shed light on values and needs when it comes to energy efficiency in the region.
Respondents included members of four western North Carolina co-ops (Energy United, Surry-Yadkin, French Broad, and Blue Ridge electric cooperatives) and customers of Duke Energy. The vast majority, 89%, reported that they have trouble paying their energy bills.
We know from data available in these areas that tens of thousands of homes are older and drafty, with outdated appliances and heating and cooling systems. Inefficient homes lead to unnecessarily high utility bills and huge energy waste, which has a negative impact on pocket books, health and comfort and our environment.
Poverty rates in the counties surveyed range from 17% to 23%. But even a family of four earning up to $47,700 a year (twice the poverty level) would struggle to pay high electric bills, and that constitutes almost half of the population in the survey area. So it’s no surprise that 69% said that being able to afford the upfront cost of energy efficiency upgrades was the biggest challenge to improving their homes. Another one-third said taking on debt to make upgrades would be a challenge.
This survey is just one of many indicators of the tremendous unmet demand for financing for energy efficiency upgrades, which would lower bills and make homes more comfortable. Fortunately, a program model exists which would help overcome barriers for families so that they could access financing without taking on personal debt and make much needed improvements on their homes.
Comprehensive on-bill financing is a tool that some electric cooperatives in the South have already implemented with great success. With this type of program, the electric utility pays the upfront costs for home improvements which result in energy savings for most members. The member then repays the utility each month on their bill using a portion of the savings that result from the efficiency improvements. When respondents were asked whether they’d be interested in learning more about this type of opportunity, 80% reported some level of interest.
There are some no-cost and low-cost measures that residents can do on their own to improve home efficiency, and there is help available from social service organizations to assist with home weatherization for some who can’t afford it. But unfortunately, the need far outweighs the resources available.
On-bill energy efficiency financing is a program that can help meet that need and it’s a win for everyone involved — our environment benefits from reduced reliance on fossil fuels due to a reduction in energy use, residents benefit from more comfortable homes and lower electric bills, and the community benefits from increased economic opportunity with the addition of more jobs to do the home upgrades.
Appalachian Voices continues to work to educate communities about ways to implement energy efficiency measures, and to help electric cooperatives implement comprehensive on-bill financing in Tennessee and North Carolina. If you’d like to send a letter to your utility to ask them to provide energy efficiency financing visit our Energy Savings Action Center.