Carnegie Mellon University
January 31, 2022

Equity issues central for getting household electrification right 'for everybody'

Destenie Nock, an assistant professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, researches energy equity including a recent collaboration on a study of how COVID-related closures shifted electricity costs onto residents.

Equity issues, in her view, will also make it a challenge for the most energy-burdened households to take advantage of a movement toward heating more houses with electric power — despite its promise of savings.

“I do think there is this underlying resource-based inequality where a lot of low-income households are the renter population,” she said. “If the landlord is not paying for the electricity bill, it is really hard to get them to switch.”

A priority should be to identify who is going to have the hardest time switching from existing fossil fuel systems to electric ones, she said, and help them transition early while many customers are still sharing the cost of the distribution system.

The climate and social policy bill known as Build Back Better, which is stalled in the divided U.S. Senate, includes $5.9 billion in rebates for home energy efficiency retrofits like upgrading appliances, insulation and windows. Larger rebates would be dedicated to low- and moderate-income households.

The bill also includes $6.25 billion in rebates to switch homes and multifamily buildings to electric household appliances — with more than half of the funds dedicated to low- and moderate-income households and tribal and underserved communities. Landlords of multifamily homes would be required to pass the benefits of future energy savings on to renters.

The direct rebate format is applauded by energy affordability advocates because many low-income households don’t have enough of a tax burden to make use of tax credits.

“Hopefully, if this comes to pass, there will be a lot of money out there for income-eligible homes to electrify,” said Alex Laskey, co-founder and executive chair of the nonprofit Rewiring America. “This clearly has to be a focus: to get this right not just for those of us who can afford to pay a premium, but for everybody.

Story originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette