While the Covid-19 pandemic has already had a variety of implications, an issue that isn’t discussed much is how families hit hard by layoffs and job losses will be able to pay their utility bill.
As projections forecasting that the pandemic will result in an economic situation that rivals the Great Depression, this also means that some 20% of households will be unable to pay utility bills, based on a recent analysis by solar advocacy organization Vote Solar.
If it’s time for government to step in to help, the time is now.
If Vote Solar’s projections hold, 20% of households unable to pay utility bills for fourth months can lead to a whopping $26 billion in utility bill debt. The organization argues that a stimulus bill and an end to all power shut-offs can help eliminate utility bill debt.
To learn more about the ethos behind Vote Solar’s campaign and the challenge for people to pay their utility bill during this time of crisis, I spoke with Vote Solar’s Managing Director of Access and Equity, Melanie Santiago-Mosier.
Why the government is crucial to ensure Americans can pay their utility bill
Without federal aid, many households simply won’t be able to pay their bills. Even before the pandemic, 1 in 3 households struggled to pay their bills. And with utility debt racking up to $27.1 billion, national stimulus is necessary. Many cash-strapped states won’t be able to provide the assistance their citizens need. And if someone cannot pay their utility bill, debt just keeps mounting should pandemic-related lockdowns prolong.
Vote Solar’s analysis also found that utility cost nonpayment could reach 2.5% of total utility annual revenues. In this scenario, Vote Solar argues that utility companies should continue to use “innovative approaches to utility debt management.” Additionally, these companies should advocate for clean energy, it adds.
Santiago-Mosier emphasizes that clean energy technology is a great way “to reduce utility costs and customer bills long-term.”
Implementing clean energy can help disadvantage communities
Utilizing clean and solar energy is a great way to drive down utility costs in the long run. However, when it comes to implementing clean energy in low-income communities, there can be misconceptions of high starting costs. According to Santiago-Mosier, “Many effective solutions are relatively inexpensive and you can do them yourself.”
From increasing insulation to upgrading appliances, there are many ways to reduce utility costs sustainably. Vote Solar also vouches for community solar initiatives, which have low start-up costs and long term savings. When discussing local resources, Santiago-Mosier suggested that residents reach out to their energy provider to explore clean energy options.
The intersection of clean energy and utility bill savings
First of foremost, clean energy lowers bills in the long run and addresses the causes of high utility burden. Secondly, Santiago-Mosier states that “nearly half of the country’s residential rooftop solar potential is on low-to-moderate income homes.” In addition, low-income and communities of color spend more of their paycheck on utility bills and have “low adoption rates of solar due to [systematic] obstacles”.
What’s clear is that increasing accessibility and awareness of clean energy in underrepresented communities can have tremendous benefits. They aren’t just economic benefits either.
“Making clean clean more affordable and accessible to low-income and racially marginalized groups pays the highest social, economic, and environmental dividends,” explains Santiago-Mosier.
Sonia John is a Writer at The Rising mainly covering the intersection of businesses and sustainability. You can pitch her stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.