Energy Efficiency Offers Promise of Lower Electric Bills

By Brian Sewell

Even as residential energy efficiency improves, the impact of home energy costs on low-income families in the Southeast has become more severe since the turn of the century, according to a report by Appalachian Voices.

The report, titled “Poverty and the Burden of Electricity Costs in the Southeast,” found that in 2001 the average southern family spent an estimated $1,500 on energy. By 2009, average energy costs had increased to more than $2,000.


“As the U.S. marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, it’s clear we have a long way to go to truly move the region’s most disadvantaged communities forward, and electric utilities should play a key role in making that happen,” says McIlmoil.

The report claims that rising energy costs can be alleviated if utilities offer their residential customers “on-bill” financing loan programs to make their homes more energy efficient. These programs, which have been successful in states including South Carolina and Kentucky, allow the homeowner to repay a loan over time through installments on their electric bill, while saving money in the short term as they use less electricity.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy also emphasizes the role energy efficiency plays in reducing electricity demand and overall consumption. As recently as the 1990s, electricity sales in the U.S. were growing more than 2 percent annually, but according to the ACEEE, energy efficiency programs and policies have helped reverse that trend over the last decade.

Despite the proven benefits of energy efficiency, however, many power providers across the southeastern United States do not offer efficiency financing options, and upfront costs to make efficiency improvements remain a significant barrier to low-income families.

A small percentage of utilities in the Southeast, particularly large investor-owned utilities, offer comprehensive loan programs. But according to McIlmoil, only one out of eight residents in the region has access to financing for home energy efficiency.

Appalachian Voices, the organization that publishes The Appalachian Voice, initiated its Energy Savings for Appalachia program in 2013 to shepherd the development of on-bill loan programs through rural electric membership cooperatives while building a broad movement to expand and promote the benefits of energy efficiency.

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