This winter, households across the Northeast region are feeling the effects of higher heating costs on their utility bills. These rising costs are due to higher fuel prices compared to last winter. On average, natural gas prices are up 32 percent over last winter. In Massachusetts, natural gas heats 51.8 percent of homes, meaning that most households are paying more on their utility bills this winter. The pandemic, high seasonal demand, and inflation are some factors that have contributed to increased fuel costs.
Higher gas prices also affect our power grid, driving up the cost of the electricity utilities are supplying to households. The higher fuel prices mean households, including those that heat using electricity instead of gas or oil, are experiencing higher electricity bills as well. It is important that we keep electricity bills low, including for all-electric households, and also ensure that we are not slowing the transition to renewables.
While households across the state are experiencing higher energy costs this winter, the impact is not spread evenly. Families in under-served communities that live in older, less energy-efficient homes often experience a higher “energy burden,” spending a higher proportion of their income on energy costs. Even before the skyrocketing price of gas, many households needed assistance to cover their energy costs. In 2020, for example, the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provided fuel assistance to over 146,000 energy burdened households in Massachusetts. Rising energy bills increase the energy burden, exacerbating inequality.
One solution to this problem is weatherizing and retrofitting homes to make them more energy-efficient and drastically reduce utility bills.
All utility customers pay a small “energy efficiency” fee that funds Mass Save, the state’s energy efficiency program. Through Mass Save, utility customers have access to energy efficiency benefits like free home energy assessments, free or discounted weatherization opportunities, and rebates on high-efficiency appliances. All utility customers can take advantage of these benefits, but factors such as upfront costs, limited outreach, and language barriers have made many programs inaccessible. Addressing these barriers is crucial because energy burdened customers often have the most to gain from weatherizing and retrofitting their homes from a cost, energy savings, and even health perspective.
At HEET, we recognize that addressing energy burdened homes is a crucial environmental justice issue to solve if we are to achieve a just transition. Through our EJ Air program, we are conducting research, engaging in outreach, and developing partnerships to learn deeply. Our goal is to improve indoor air quality and prepare homes for electrification even as we lower the energy burden. We hope in the process to identify and dismantle the biggest barriers to weatherizing homes, finding equitable and cost-effective ways to connect more households to weatherization upgrades.
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Post by: Kai Palmer-Dunnning, Director of EJ Air.