Boston’s Disparities In Access to Clean Energy
Clean energy— energy generated from recyclable sources which also does not emit greenhouse gasses during the process— is vital in fostering development and providing communities with higher and more accessible standards of living (4). Facilitating a shift to clean energy is beneficial to the quality of living as a whole, from improving air quality to limiting the burning of fossil fuels. Ideally, people would have convenient access to renewable, efficient, and affordable energy sources.
Massachusetts is making great progress in this regard and is ranked in the top 3 states for “State support of low-income energy efficiency programs” by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) (9). Unfortunately, many people do not have dependable, easy access to clean energy, including renters, those from low-and-moderate income households, non-English speaking families, and communities of color (1).
In Boston, the amount of income that low income households spend on energy bills is 3.9 times higher than the amount that moderate to high income households spend on energy bills (5). This creates a huge resource drain, preventing people from improving their financial situation and requiring them to work longer hours to make up for the drag on their money. If they are not able to make ends meet and cannot pay their utility bills, they are vulnerable to having their utilities disconnected. In this sense, access to clean energy is more expensive, time consuming, and requires more mental strain on low income households and individuals in comparison to high income households and individuals.
Renters also face problems related to accessing clean energy. This can be caused by the lack of incentive for property owners to purchase and update appliances and systems that are more energy-efficient, since renters would be the ones benefiting from lower utility bills (12). In Massachusetts, 37.84% of households are renters (13). And yet, rental homes consume 15% more energy than owner-occupied homes, increasing renters’ energy bills (5). This disparity in access to clean energy is worsened by the income levels of renters, with 48% of renter households in Massachusetts falling below the average median income (11). On top of this, almost half of Greater Boston renters pay over a third of their household income toward housing costs and rent extracts more than half their income for many (3). As a result, many renters have to deal with obstacles related to accessing clean energy associated with being low income in addition to the difficulties of clean energy access as a renter.
In addition to income and renting, there are language barriers that impede people’s access to clean energy. Within Massachusetts, 8.9% of people are reported to speak English “less than very well.” This figure rises to 17.1% in Boston (14). Non-English speakers face greater difficulty when negotiating utility bills and find themselves wasting their money, time, and energy. They may not be able to negotiate their energy bills, communicate errors in the amount they are charged, or even report difficulties in accessing and functioning their utilities, creating a resource drag in their household (8). Factors such as these snowball and form hurdles along the paths a non-English speaker takes in improving their access to clean energy and current situation. One non-English speaking Korean immigrant, Seon D. Kim, expressed her struggles. “If something unjust happens, like a traffic ticket I’m not supposed to get, I want to be able to defend myself, not just spend a lot of money to hire an attorney to help me,” Kim explains. This difficulty extends to handling energy bills, evaluating utility options, and more (10).
Additionally, communities of color face difficulty in accessing clean energy as well. Low-income, Black, Hispanic, and Native American households spend more of their income on energy bills compared to the median household in Boston, which leads to a greater risk for respiratory diseases, increased stress and economic hardship, and difficulty in moving out of poverty (5). The effects of these disparities are apparent. For instance, black children are three times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for asthma attacks than white children (15). These repercussions demonstrate the level of difficulty communities of color face when accessing clean energy.
Action must be taken to improve these disparities in access to clean energy in our community. Luckily, progress is underway. There is legislation being pushed, like “The Clean Energy” legislation, people are becoming more aware of the clean energy equity crisis, and organizations like All In Energy (AIE) are doing their part to help the situation (7, 1). AIE is focusing on the communities left behind when it comes to clean energy and bringing them the resources they lack. For example, AIE has outreach efforts in collaboration with local organizations and cities, connects residents with other helpful organizations like RelayPower to educate residents, and AIE hires diverse staff themselves for residents to easily connect (1). There is a long way to go to help the communities that have been left behind in the journey to clean energy, but with AIE, and other organizations, there is great progress being made.
- “About Us.” All In Energy, https://allinenergy.org/about-us.html. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- Brown, Marilyn A., et al. “Progress In Energy.” High energy burden and low-income energy affordability: conclusions from a literature review, vol. 2, no. 4, 2020. IOP Science. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- CALEF, ANNE, et al. “The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2022.” The Boston Foundation, https://www.tbf.org/-/media/tbf/reports-and-covers/2022/october/gbhrc2022_interactive_web.pdf. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- “clean energy | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute.” Law.Cornell.Edu, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/clean_energy. Accessed 29 December 2022.
- “ENERGY BURDENS IN BOSTON.” ACEEE, https://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/aceee-01_energy_burden_-_boston.pdf. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- “Environmental Justice Populations in Massachusetts.” Mass.gov, https://www.mass.gov/info-details/environmental-justice-populations-in-massachusetts#what-is-an-environmental-justice-population? Accessed 11 December 2022.
- Hatch, Susannah, et al. “CommonWealth Magazine.” CommonWealth Magazine, 9 August 2022, https://commonwealthmagazine.org/opinion/climate-bill-needed-for-environmental-equity-reasons/. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- Hills, James. “Things That Are More Difficult If You Don't Speak English.” Men Who Blog, 16 February 2022, https://menwhoblog.com/blog/things-that-are-more-difficult-if-you-dont-speak-english.html. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- “Home.” ACEEE Report, https://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/u2206.pdf. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- “Immigrants Face Struggle to Live Without English.” Los Angeles Times, 11 May 1992, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-05-11-mn-1285-story.html. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- “Out of Reach.” Out of Reach: | National Low Income Housing Coalition, https://nlihc.org/oor/state/ma. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- “Report: Low-Income Renters Face Barriers to Clean Energy.” NRDC, 27 February 2017, https://www.nrdc.org/experts/maria-stamas/report-low-income-renters-face-barriers-clean-energy. Accessed 29 December 2022.
- “Residential Rent Statistics for Massachusetts.” Department of Numbers, https://www.deptofnumbers.com/rent/massachusetts/. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- Stanton, Liz. “Accessing Energy Efficiency in Massachusetts — Applied Economics Clinic.” Applied Economics Clinic, 26 February 2018, https://aeclinic.org/publicationpages/2018/2/26/accessing-energy-efficiency-in-massachusetts. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- “Testimony of Steven Nadel, Executive Director American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.” ACEEE, 1 October 2020, https://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/aceee-drehobl-testimony-10.1.20-final.pdf. Accessed 11 December 2022.
- “The shorter side of =.” YouTube, 25 October 2021, https://pixabay.com/images/id-7342177/. Accessed 29 December 2022.