Many Georgia families struggle with high energy bills. In 2018, the Georgia Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) served 140,795 families in need of assistance with their energy bills.Lower income families, in particular, spend a larger percentage of their income on energy bills than higher income families. As a result, struggling families sometimes find themselves forced to choose between electricity and other basic necessities, such as groceries or healthcare. This high energy burden often leaves lasting negative impacts on health and financial well-being. Families fall into debt trying to pay utilities, sometimes seeking high interest short-term loans to avoid utility shutoffs for nonpayment.High energy bills not only drive up housing costs but also can cause health problems, as families cut back on necessary heating and cooling to save money. In effect, high energy bills contribute to health problems and trap families in a cycle of poverty. For all these reasons, energy is an equity issue in Georgia.
Energy efficiency and community solar can lower and stabilize utility bills, creating healthier and more comfortable living environments and reducing the high energy demand that drives up energy prices. But programs offering energy efficiency upgrades and community solar remain largely unavailable or otherwise inaccessible for the families who need them the most to reduce their high utility bills: families who rent, live in multifamily affordable housing, or otherwise cannot afford the often high upfront costs of energy efficiency and solar. Georgians need energy efficiency programs that, in addition to rebates, provide equitable financing options, like on-bill financing options, to make participation accessible and affordable. Likewise, community solar can go a long way toward making clean energy more accessible and affordable to the families and households struggling with high utility bills. By understanding the benefits of and barriers to energy efficiency and community solar, we can determine how to make them more equitable and accessible programs for all Georgians.