This op-ed was published in the Baltimore Sun on August 19, 2019
There has been a great deal of national and local discussion recently on making sure Baltimore reaches its full potential. Make no mistake: There is a reason it is called Charm City; we are a vibrant and proud city.
After more than 30 years working to make housing healthier in Baltimore and across Maryland, it is clear to us that we won’t reach that full potential until we better serve our most vulnerable residents where it matters most: in their homes. We have conducted hundreds of energy audits for families and the elderly living in low-income homes and apartments across the region. What we see should serve as a rallying cry for the Hogan Administration and the General Assembly to improve energy efficiency in the next legislative session.
In the homes of struggling families working valiantly to improve their livelihoods, we often encounter broken water heaters, leaky insulation, drafty windows, spotty electrical systems, moldy air conditioning units, outdated HVAC systems and more. For someone living in a limited-income apartment, waiting for a property owner to make sorely needed energy retrofits can feel hopeless.
Not surprisingly, these same residents grapple every month with high energy bills that could be significantly lower with energy efficient upgrades to their homes.
In fact, they pay 550% more as a portion of income than non low-income Marylanders. That is money they cannot use to pay for other daily necessities. This is unsustainable and outrageous, especially given that state programs exist to provide efficiency retrofits to low-income Marylanders that would cut their energy bills.
But at their current pace, state programs won’t reach all 450,000 limited-income households in the state for 130 years. A mere 9% of eligible low-income Maryland households have received the weatherization assistance they sorely need.
Fortunately, Gov. Larry Hogan announced in May that he will make improving energy efficiency a policy priority when the General Assembly convenes in January.
It’s a smart move on every level. That is why we are urging Governor Hogan and Maryland lawmakers to set a goal of 1% annual energy savings for low-income Maryland households (at or below 80% area median income).
The savings would be achieved by increasing state-funded home energy performance audits in qualified low-income homes and then making needed energy efficiency improvements such as new insulation, better windows, EnergyStar® appliances, LED lightbulbs and more.
Why set a 1% goal? As noted earlier, low-income Marylanders devote an extremely high share of their income to energy bills. In fact, some pay 42 cents out of every dollar to energy bills.
Second, Maryland lags behind other states in helping low-income residents achieve energy savings. Low-income households nationally dedicate 8% of their annual income to energy costs, while Maryland’s low-income households pay 13%.
For families living in poverty, that is unacceptable. High energy costs erode their ability to buy daily necessities like food and clothing, but also school supplies and medical care for children and the elderly.
Lastly, Marylanders far beyond Baltimore also would benefit from a 1% low-income energy-savings goal. Roughly one out of every five Maryland low-income households are in rural communities from Southern Maryland to the Eastern Shore. In fact, some of the most successful state-funded energy efficient retrofit stories come from rural Washington County andAllegany County in Western Maryland.
There is no shortage of opinions about how to make sure Baltimore reaches its full potential. A 1% low-income energy-savings goal can help Baltimore and all of Maryland get there. We need to stop casting the blame and adopt a common-sense, achievable plan to improve the lives of all Marylanders.