Category: Built Environment
Map of the Month – February
William D. Bryan, Ph.D. & Joy Ward
In honor of Black History Month, our February map pays homage to David Crosthwait, a Black engineer and inventor who designed heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. One of his greatest contributions was developing heating systems for Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall in New York. Today he is remembered for holding 39 patents that addressed a range of heating and ventilation problems. In 1971, he became the first Black person named a fellow of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers.
This month’s map visualizes the type of heating fuel households use at the county level across the United States for occupied housing units. It was created using data from the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Nationwide, most people rely on utility gas or electricity to heat their homes. Forty-seven percent of households use utility gas to fuel their heating equipment, while 39% use electricity. The remaining fuel types, bottled tank and fuel oil, are common in the Midwest and Northeast, respectively. In the South, electricity is most common with 68% of households using it as a source of heat, while just a quarter use utility gas.
One reason why the South has a high percentage of electricity use is because our region has a lower heating load and electric utilities have led successful heat pump installation programs. Despite this, urban centers such as Atlanta, Birmingham, Little Rock, Louisville, and Memphis predominately use utility gas. While this map suggests that the South is heavily electric, there are still millions of households in the Southeast that are eligible for the electric appliance tax credits and rebates available through the Inflation Reduction Act. These incentives can reduce the cost of energy efficient appliances like electric heat pumps, which are well-suited to the needs of Southern homes and dramatically reduce household energy consumption.
On March 15 at 2 p.m., hear from regional experts about how we can leverage federal funding to help low-income renters access energy efficient technology for their homes. Register for How to Make Clean Energy Upgrades More Accessible to Renters today.
Map of the Month – January
William D. Bryan, Ph.D. & Joy Ward
We are excited to introduce a new addition to SEEA’s blog this year – the Map of the Month. Every month, our research team will share a map that explores energy efficiency in the Southeast.
Millions of people in the South who struggle to pay their electric and gas bills every month are threatened with energy insecurity, or when a household cannot maintain vital energy services like heating and cooling. Energy insecurity undermines the health, safety and affordability of housing. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis.
Using new state-level data from the Energy Information Administration’s 2020 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), this map shows that people living in the Southeast experience the highest rate of energy insecurity in the country. In Mississippi, where 2 out of 5 households struggle to keep on the lights and heat, people are more likely to be energy insecure than anywhere else in the U.S. Of the 9.3 million energy insecure homes in the Southeast, nearly one-third are in Florida and Georgia. People experiencing energy insecurity are at greater risk for respiratory illness, poverty, and being unable to survive or recover in the face of extreme weather.
Beginning with a report and StoryMap, published in 2021, our research team has led SEEA’s work in identifying the historical and current systemic issues that contribute to energy insecurity in the Southeast. In 2022, SEEA announced the Southeast Energy Insecurity Project and continues to advance energy efficiency as a mitigation tool to help people in the Southeast live in healthier, more comfortable homes. You can hear more about how to reduce energy insecurity in our upcoming webinar, Promoting Knowledge and Engagement – Addressing Energy Insecurity in the Gullah Community on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 11 a.m. ET.
Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance Announces Inaugural Energy Insecurity Project Implementation Awards
ATLANTA, GA – The Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) today announced the winners of the inaugural Southeast Energy Insecurity Project Implementation Awards. The award winners were selected by the Southeast Energy Insecurity Project (SEIP) Leadership Forum. The project was formerly housed at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Sabrina Cowden, principal at Sabrina Cowden Consulting and a member of the Leadership Forum, said, “The award winners are doing the hard work of developing and implementing programs that facilitate better access to energy assistance. We are excited to support projects that provide meaningful pathways to address energy insecurity and can be held up as program models throughout the Southeast.” The awards are as follows:
The City of Savannah (GA) Office of Sustainability & the Athens-Clarke County (GA) Unified Government Sustainability Office
These governments were selected for a shared $10,000 award to support a project that will expand access to Georgia Power’s Home Energy Efficiency Assistance Program (HEEAP), an energy efficiency assistance program for income-qualified customers. This project will promote and explain the HEEAP to the community. The project team will also collect data on observed barriers to participation. This data will be brought to the Georgia Public Service Commission’s Demand Side Management Working Group, which advises both the commission and Georgia Power on existing and future energy efficiency programs, with the goal of lowering participation barriers for Georgia Power customers.
Alicia Brown, the clean energy program manager for the City of Savannah said, “I’m very excited for the opportunity partner with my friends in Athens-Clarke County. There are energy efficiency programs available today, that customers pay for on every power bill, that are not used as much as they should be simply because people don’t know they exist. Our goal is to spend the next four months changing that narrative in our respective communities and collecting insights to take back to the Public Service Commission to make these programs even more effective for those who need the assistance most.”
The Sustainability Institute (Charleston, SC)
This organization was selected to receive a $12,500 award to support a project that will identify and address health and safety challenges that prevent access to energy assistance and launch an awareness campaign to educate energy insecure communities and decision-makers. This project is focused on four underserved communities in North Charleston, SC that have a high number of aging homes and high energy burdens. This project will help develop a program that identifies homes that need repairs before they can receive weatherization upgrades. Project partners and AmeriCorps staff will support raising community awareness and outreach.
The Sustainability Institute’s project partners include the Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC), Liberty Hill Improvement Council, Charleston Area Affordable Housing Coalition, Charleston County Government, Charleston Climate Coalition, and the South Carolina Energy Justice Roundtable.
Bryan Cordell, executive director of the Sustainability Institute, said, “So many families in our region are not only spending more than they can afford to heat and cool their homes, they are also facing home health and safety challenges that prevent efficiency repairs from ever being implemented. We are excited for the opportunity to work with underserved communities to better understand the challenges families are facing so that we can build a programmatic model that holistically addresses those needs. We believe that weatherizing homes is critically important work. The optimal outcome pairs energy upgrades with a healthy and safe living environment and also engages and empowers families.”
Questions? Contact Sarah Burgher, senior marketing and communications manager.
Happy Heat Pump Water Heater Day!
Today is the first-ever Heat Pump Water Heater Day, dedicated to heat pump water heater (HPWH) education and awareness. Join us on social media (Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram) using the hashtag #HeatPumpItUp to share your HPWH resources, products, cost information, professional practices, projects, and insights on why you think this is a game changing technology.
High performance building technology is a key piece to accelerating the growth of efficient energy in the Southeast. Heat pump water heaters provide exceptional support for households and businesses across the region. Their design and function make them especially useful in the Southeast’s hot and humid climate as they move heat from the surrounding space into the hot water tank. Water heating accounts for a large share of energy use in buildings—up to 32% in single-family and multifamily homes. Decreasing the amount of energy used to heat water with a HPWH decreases utility bills while maintaining on-demand hot water needed for daily life.
On average, HPWHs have higher initial costs than traditional electric-resistance water heaters used in approximately 68% of southeastern homes. However, there are federal, state, and utility rebates to offset the purchase cost available now and more coming in 2023. When those investments are combined with energy savings, the incremental increase in cost can quickly be recaptured. Through the Inflation Reduction Act, home and building owners can expect to see tax-credits of up to $2,000 and income-qualified rebates of $1,750 for the purchase and installation of Heat Pump Water Heaters.
Increasing the use of HPWH technology is critical in the pursuit of equitable electrification and ensuring everyone has access to affordable energy. Hot water is integral to daily life, and all people deserve to have affordable, safe hot water. Because nearly all homes use a water heater and they will all likely need to be replaced by 2035, Heat Pump Water Heaters are an ideal appliance for reducing energy use, carbon emissions and utility bills. Alleviating upfront costs, building awareness and developing a more knowledgeable workforce are critical for the widespread adoption of HPWHs.
SEEA is working to increase the adoption of Heat Pump Water Heaters in the Southeast. We are a proud supporting member of the Advanced Water Heating Initiative, where we strive to lift up voices, needs and innovation in the region. SEEA is also partnering with AZS Consulting in FL and Viridiant in VA on the Advanced Energy Ready Workforce Southeast project to develop technical expertise, improve customer comfort, lower energy costs and advance economic growth in the region.
If you are interested in learning more about our work on buildings and advanced technologies, contact Maggie Kelley Riggins, senior program manager.
Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance to Launch Smart Manufacturing and Energy Management Systems Pilot Program
ATLANTA, GA – The Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) is pleased to announce its award of $500,000 through the Technical Partnerships Opportunity from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Manufacturing Office. This award establishes a regional two-year pilot initiative that will test technical assistance and workforce development practices to catalyze greater uptake and integration of smart manufacturing technologies and enhanced energy management practices. The Southeast Smart and Efficient Manufacturing Collaborative comprised of SEEA, Georgia Institute of Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Advanced Energy, Association of Energy Engineers, 50001 Strategies LLC, Clemson University Center for Advanced Manufacturing and CESMII, The Smart Manufacturing Institute. The collaborative will provide awareness, education, training, instructor training and consultation services to the regional manufacturing energy management workforce and educate stakeholders on the benefits of smart manufacturing technologies and best practices on how to integrate systems into the sector.
Founded in 2007, SEEA is a nonprofit, regional energy efficiency organization based in Atlanta, GA. We believe that all people in the Southeast should be able to live and work in healthy and resilient buildings, utilize clean and affordable transportation, and thrive in a robust and equitable economy. We provide research, consultation and education, program management, and financial services to a diverse set of allies in the energy sector. SEEA represents more than 80 member organizations across the Southeast from utilities to state energy offices, service providers, manufacturers and advocates invested in building a more efficient, equitable and sustainable Southeast. With our members and partners, SEEA has delivered energy efficiency-related trainings to thousands of service providers in the region.
“This pilot program supports the advancement of the next generation of advanced manufacturing in the Southeast. It will help the sector evaluate and integrate the latest smart manufacturing technologies, systematic energy management practices and emerging sustainable manufacturing practices,” said SEEA director of technology and market solutions, Sydney G. Roberts.
Questions? Contact Sarah Burgher, senior marketing and communications manager.
Our top blog posts of 2021
In 2021, the covid-19 pandemic continued to influence our desire to improve the safety and efficiency of our indoor spaces and we saw an increased public and private investment in energy-efficient technology, manufacturing, and policy. SEEA welcomed a new president, and we expanded and deepened our commitment to equity within our industry. In this notable year, these are the blog posts that you read, shared, and liked the most.
1. What is energy security versus energy burden?
Originally published March 15, 2021
Last month, SEEA released our report, Energy Insecurity Fundamentals for the South. We believe using common metrics is essential to creating robust and prescriptive policies that address the multiple dimensions of energy insecurity. […]
2. Going beyond recovery with the American Jobs Plan
Originally published April 22, 2021
For patients recovering from a major illness or trauma, doctors stress the importance of improving social wellness as a part of recovery. They prescribe getting back on your feet as the first step, but note that staying healthy requires a long-term investment in one’s physical, mental, and social health. […]
3. Energy efficiency for all – the opportunity ahead
Originally published May 6, 2021
While I officially started working at SEEA on April 26, I have had the pleasure of working with SEEA staff and board members for more than ten years. The team’s dedication to realizing a more energy efficient Southeast that benefits all people has long inspired my curiosity […]
4. How American Efficient is realizing a more diverse energy industry
Originally published November 10, 2021
The American Efficient DEI Action Team
Over the last year, a team at American Efficient developed a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) action plan to put some of our company’s values into practice. As a group of mostly white people in a mostly white company—and industry—we regard this as a privilege, in all senses of the word. […]
4. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will transform the Southeast
Originally published November 12, 2021
On Friday, November 5, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill passed the Senate in a bipartisan vote in August and President Biden is expected to sign the bill on Monday, November 15. The $1.2 trillion package is a historic investment in infrastructure that advances energy efficiency, resiliency, and electric transportation. Combined with the President’s Build Back Framework, it will average 1.5 million additional jobs every year for the next 10 years. […]
How heat islands worsen energy inefficiency and inequality in our cities
Just after 6 p.m. on Saturday evening in August, policy manager, Claudette Ayanaba and I met at the Outdoor Activity Center in southwest Atlanta to volunteer with the Atlanta Heat Watch Campaign, led by Spelman College professors, Dr. Guanyu Huang and Dr. Na’Taki Osborne Jelks. The campaign uses volunteers to measure temperatures in various neighborhoods at different intervals and aims “to document how heat risk aligns with other important dimensions of population vulnerability to climate change, including race and ethnicity, income, access to air conditioning in the home, population comorbidities for heat illness, and public investment to-date in climate adaptation.”
Dr. Huang handed us a sensor made of white PVC pipe used to measure heat. He then pulled out his phone and texted me a link to the map of our route, which looked like a large puzzle piece outlining Midtown Atlanta. Volunteers measure temperatures along three routes: one south of downtown, one around Emory and Decatur, and the one we were assigned to, through Midtown and Inman Park. The intent was to evaluate how heat might differ in neighborhoods with different characteristics.
Claudette agreed to drive, and I called out the turns. We got in the car, and she set the GPS for Daddy D’z BBQ, our starting point just east of Downtown. As we started our route around 7 p.m., I noticed some nearby restaurant diners looking at the nearly two-foot-long arm of the heat sensor clipped to the window and sticking out over the car roof, likely questioning what we were doing.
It was a good question. Weeks before, Claudette and I both received emails inviting us to volunteer for the campaign. A few years ago, I might have skipped over this email, but recently SEEA has been researching and evaluating the influences on the access and affordability of energy, or energy insecurity. In 2020, we worked with the Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute (TEPRI) to create a StoryMap that illustrates the long-term and compounding energy impacts of discriminatory policy and racism on communities of color. The research draws a through line between historic racist housing policy and the high amount of inefficient housing in low-income communities today.
A family living in an inefficient home is hit with a double whammy if they live in a heat island, making it significantly more difficult and more expensive to cool their home in the summer. A heat island is an urban area that experiences higher temperatures than surrounding areas. Higher concentrations of emissions from traffic corridors, closely situated buildings, and a lack of green infrastructure can all contribute to a local 1 – 7 degree temperature increase. Heat islands can occur under various conditions, in small or large cities, in the suburbs, in different climates and seasons, and during the day or the night. However, for people in low-income communities, heat islands are an additional barrier to maintaining healthy and comfortable homes. Heat related deaths are the number one weather related cause of death, and low-income communities and communities of color experience it at much higher rates than affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods. Low owner-occupancy rates in historically segregated communities also means that residents typically have less control and fewer resources to improve the efficiency of their homes. In response to these realizations, Miami Dade County in Florida just appointed its first Chief Heat Officer to develop solutions for residents in anticipation of mounting negative impacts of rising heat on residents and other communities are expected to follow suit.
Energy efficiency is a powerful tool for mitigating the heat island effect and increasing temperatures due to climate change. Weatherization improvements like better insulation, sealing gaps in your attic or crawlspace, and advanced building technologies like smart thermostats and heat pump water heaters can lower energy bills and reduce the risk of heat-related illness in homes. An energy-efficient home holds its temperature more evenly and requires less energy and less money to heat or cool. Many electric utilities in the Southeast offer energy efficiency programs that connect customers with services, products, and rebates to improve energy efficiency. However there continue to be gaps in residents’ ability to access these resources. For two years, SEEA has been working with partners including the City of Atlanta and Georgia Power to identify energy efficiency solutions for homeowners, landlords, and renters in the six most energy-burdened ZIP codes in Atlanta. We’re learning about the specific challenges and needs faced in each area and designing solutions that provide residents more access to energy efficiency resources that could significantly improve their lives.
It was our understanding of all the compounding energy challenges facing Atlanta residents that led us to spend a couple hours on a Saturday evening driving around the city volunteering with the Atlanta Heat Watch Campaign. In that time, we noticed that most of our route was through tree-lined, more affluent neighborhoods. The streets included on our route were far greener than the roads we had travelled to Outdoor Activity Center, and in a few months we will learn about what impact that had on the temperature in each of those neighborhoods. While we did not gather any information on what people were experiencing inside their homes that evening, my experience tells me they likely used less energy than similarly sized homes in neighborhoods with fewer trees and green space. We look forward to learning more about the story the data tells and will provide updates to this blog post.
- Climate change is making the whole city hotter—but rising temps may put some Atlantans in more danger than others, Atlanta Magazine
- ‘Hotlanta’ is even more sweltering in these neighborhoods due to a racist 20th-century policy, CNN
- Tips on managing summer heat, UrbanHeatAtl & Spelman College students
Energy efficiency for all – the opportunity ahead
While I officially started working at SEEA on April 26, I have had the pleasure of working with SEEA staff and board members for more than ten years. The team’s dedication to realizing a more energy efficient Southeast that benefits all people has long inspired my curiosity and pushed me to expand how I view energy efficiency solutions. The team has consistently worked to understand the utility landscape and bring together leaders, advocates, and businesses to address the region’s most complex energy problems.
I sometimes hear the argument that energy efficiency is no longer relevant, that all the proverbial sockets have been plugged. However, energy efficiency is an evolving set of solutions that can offset the impact of a warming climate and I believe we are far from maximizing its many benefits. In Atlanta, the median energy cost burden is 32% higher for Black households and 52% higher for Hispanic households compared to white households. Energy efficiency lifts people out of poverty and contributes to a thriving, equitable economy in the Southeast. It is our single greatest resource in addressing the effects of climate change and the disproportionate energy burden costs for low-income and non-white households.
Our region’s health and housing issues can be mitigated through energy efficiency. Energy insecurity affects 35% of all homes in the South, and 7.5 million households have received utility disconnection or stop service notices. Residents in energy insecure homes, particularly children, are at higher risk for chronic illnesses like asthma that can be made worse by pests, moisture, and thermal distress. Lack of access to healthy, affordable homes is rooted in racist housing segregation and voter disenfranchisement, which still shape the region’s energy and housing sectors. Weatherization programs, along with updated energy codes for new construction as well as existing buildings keeps housing affordable, safe, and healthy for all communities, regardless of income.
Energy efficient transportation is also a powerful resource in combating the harmful effects of vehicle pollution. It reduces the outsized impact of poor air quality on low-income communities and communities of color. To counteract the historic inequities in transportation infrastructure, everyone must be included in the decision-making process to find ways for the energy and transportation sectors to create more affordable and accessible mobility options. Through education, collaboration, and promoting a diverse array of perspectives we can create wide-reaching policy that benefits all people who live in the Southeast.
Energy has become a necessary requirement of our modern lives. The fear of being without energy services keeps many people up at night, whether it is families struggling to keep the heat on or braving the hot summer without air conditioning to cover food and medication costs. This fear was a reality of my childhood. It drives me to eliminate that worry for future generations and ensure that all residents in the Southeast live, work, and play in healthy, affordable, resilient buildings.
We are fortunate to be entering an unprecedented time to improve our infrastructure through strategic investments in energy efficient housing and transportation, expanding manufacturing, and creating a more diverse workforce. This investment marks a new era in American history, an opportunity to build systems that provide more wealth, better health, and stronger communities for all of us. Here in the Southeast, we have the greatest opportunity for growth and expansion in the country. I am personally inspired and eager to embark on this journey with the team at SEEA. Their passion, commitment to SEEA’s mission, and deep well of knowledge energizes me and gives me the determination to seek out new partners, better solutions, and a more prosperous South for all.
What is energy insecurity versus energy burden?
Last month, SEEA released our report, Energy Insecurity Fundamentals for the South. We believe using common metrics is essential to creating robust and prescriptive policies that address the multiple dimensions of energy insecurity.
Energy burden is one of the most common metrics used to measure the economic aspects of energy insecurity. Energy burden is a household’s residential energy costs, typically electricity, natural gas, or propane, divided by household income. The calculation should be based on annual income and cost data because of seasonal variations in energy use and income, especially for low-income households.
While energy burden can shed light on the financial aspect of energy insecurity, it does not provide a complete picture of how families manage their energy costs.
People who are unable to pay for basic energy needs such as heating, cooling, and lighting live in a state of energy insecurity. Energy insecurity highlights the many factors that influence energy access and affordability.
Energy insecurity is a key metric for understanding the inequitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of the energy sector on residents of the Southeast. Energy insecurity calls attention to the many factors that influence energy access and affordability. Age and quality of a residence, advanced building technologies, community health and air quality, economic burden, and behavioral coping mechanisms all contribute to energy insecurity. These multiple dimensions shed light on groups who are more at risk of becoming burdened by energy costs, customers who face disruption of energy services, and the unseen costs of energy in the Southeast.
Energy insecurity helps us better understand how the generation, transmission, and consumption of energy affects communities. We can also see how energy insecurity places residents at a higher risk for health and safety threats. This framework provides a broader perspective that encompasses a wide range of factors that influence energy affordability and access as well as the long-term impacts on utility customers. Effective programs to address the inequities in the energy sector must grapple with each of these causes to be successful.
SEEA’s ongoing research and policy and program creation is grounded in our organizational value to pursue equitable solutions within the Southeast energy sector. Understanding the root causes of energy insecurity in our region helps us discover policy and program pathways that lead to an equitable energy system. Pursuing equitable solutions in the building sector requires a deeper understanding of the historical and contemporary policies, practices, and data that have led to the inequities Southerners experience today.
We are pursuing additional research, policy, and program work to achieve a more energy secure Southeast. These resources provide additional insight on energy insecurity in the Southeast:
- Energy Insecurity in the Southeast (StoryMap)
- Energy Insecurity Fundamentals for the Southeast (Report)
Questions? Contact Will Bryan or Maggie Kelley Riggins.
Our Top Energy Efficiency Stories of 2020
2020 was a year of firsts and hopefully some never-agains. We experienced the first global pandemic in over a century, grieved over the tragic consequences of systemic racism, and felt the uncertainty of a growing economic recession. The energy sector and the Southeast did not go unscathed. In this time of loss, we found resilience and a renewed purpose to bring our values into our work every day. These are the stories that kept us up at night, gave us hope, and reminded us that there is still work to be done.
Electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure expanded throughout the Southeast in 2020. In North and South Carolina, Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas were approved to implement electric vehicle pilot programs that include the installation and operation of EV charging stations in public places and multifamily communities as well as publicly accessible fast-charging stations. The Florida legislature passed Senate Bill 7018, which paved the way for the development of a statewide electric vehicle infrastructure master plan. In December 2020, the Florida Department of Transportation submitted its draft of policy recommendations and is expected to complete the master plan by July 1, 2021.
EV manufacturing boomed throughout the region. Mercedes-Benz U.S. International has planned a new EV parts facility near Tuscaloosa, AL. GM announced plans to transition its existing assembly plant in Spring Hill, TN, to its third electric vehicle manufacturing plant in North America. Arrival, the U.K. electric vehicle startup, has chosen Charlotte, NC for its headquarters after announcing plans to build a microfactory in nearby Rock Hill, SC. These developments keep or create over 4,000 jobs in the Southeast and represent a $3 billion investment in local economies.
Energy Efficiency Policy
In spring 2020, the Virginia General Assembly passed and approved the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), requiring state utilities to produce 30% of their energy from renewables by 2030, close all carbon-emitting power plants by 2050, and attain mandatory energy efficiency savings targets. Additionally, the General Assembly made the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice a permanent advisory body to the executive branch, after operating on a temporary basis for nearly two years. The council will provide recommendations to protect vulnerable communities and integrate environmental justice into the state’s daily operations.
In 2019, four of the seven utilities subject to the Florida Energy Efficiency Conservation Act (FEECA) proposed reducing their energy efficiency goals to zero, or nearly zero, for the next decade. The Florida Public Service Commission (FPSC) rejected those goals and began to assess with state legislators how they might reform or reinterpret FEECA to improve energy savings. In early 2020, the FPSC opened docket 20200181 and requested commission staff to propose changes to the processes of setting goals and approving programs for energy efficiency. On January 14, 2021, policy director Cyrus Bhedwar participated in a workshop held by the FPSC on the FEECA revision process. The FPSC is accepting written public comments until February 15.
Both of these acts set the stage for decades of improved energy efficiency goals and clean energy standards, providing a healthier, more just future across the Southeast.
The onset of the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic revealed and made worse existing inequities in housing and energy for millions of Americans. In September 2020, research from Indiana University confirmed that energy insecurity, the inability to pay utility bills, is higher in households of color than their white counterparts. The American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) listed Birmingham, AL as the city with the highest energy burden and Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee the most energy burdened states in the country.
Because of this existing economic inequity, Black and Latino communities are most at risk for utility shut-offs. Access to electricity, gas, water, and broadband are all crucial to remaining healthy during a pandemic and sheltering at home.
2020 also affirmed that energy efficiency regulation works. An April FEMA study found that strong building codes, including energy codes, in Florida and California will save the country’s most disaster-prone states $1 billion annually. In its annual progress report, Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative reported nearly $11 billion in savings since its inception a decade ago.
Diversity, Inclusion, & Integration
This summer there was a national calling to confront systemic racism and reform police practices. In the midst of this reckoning, private and public changes moved the region and the energy sector towards equity. In July 2020, Georgia Power’s Senior Vice President of Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations Bentina Chisolm Terry took on an expanded role that includes Georgia Power’s work in underserved communities – people of color, the elderly, women, and LGBTQ+. In October 2020, Terry, and her colleague Latanza Adjei, Vice President of Corporate Services, were selected to the Atlanta Business League’s list of “Atlanta’s Top 100 Black Women of Influence.”
In August 2020, Department of Energy announced the first slate of Equity in Energy Ambassadors and Champions. The Ambassadors are responsible for leading efforts for ensuring diversity and equal access to energy. In Mississippi, residents overwhelmingly voted in the general election to remove Confederate imagery from the state flag. Similarly, Alabama voters approved an amendment that starts the process of deleting racist language from the state constitution inserted during the Jim Crow era.
While this work is not complete, these steps bend the arc of the universe just a bit more towards justice and equity.