Conserving the Planet—Without Hurting Low-Income Families

Increasing household energy efficiency reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Energy-efficiency programs are now widespread, but they are often designed in a way that excludes low-income households.

All families pay energy surcharges used to fund such programs, but low-income families lack money to buy the appliances and insulation that programs subsidize. Because they don’t own the homes being upgraded, tenants are often reluctant to invest in energy efficiency. Landlords lack incentive to make upgrades because they usually don’t pay the energy bills—those costs are deferred to the tenant.

As a result, low-income people can end up subsidizing programs for the wealthy, and programs miss a critical opportunity to upgrade inefficient old appliances and drafty homes of low-income families.

The solution is to provide effective programs that specifically address the needs of low-income households. Well-designed programs can serve both resource conservation and social justice, such as the ambitious efficiency programs established in the United Kingdom that aim to reduce greenhouse gases and eliminate Energy Poverty over the next decade.

Energy Poverty, a term used to describe households that spend more than 10 per cent of their net income on energy expenditures, affects approximately 17 per cent of British Columbian homes (totalling almost 300,000). Linked to cardiovascular, respiratory health problems and a contributor to excess winter deaths, Energy Poverty forces people to choose between buying groceries or heating their homes.

Working with the Climate Justice Project, ELC students Maine McEachern and Jill Vivian recently reviewed the best programs for addressing Energy Poverty from around the world. Conserving the Planet Without Hurting Low-Income Families: Options for Fair Energy Efficiency Programs for Low-Income Households sets out a strategy for addressing this important issue.

The report provides a detailed overview of existing and best practices and makes recommendations for reforms in BC. The report’s comprehensive information should help develop an effective province-wide approach to improving energy efficiency in low-income households.

Read the report