How do efficiency programs serve low-income communities? New study takes a look.

(ACEEE blog, 13 Nov 2019) A growing number of energy efficiency program implementers across the United States serve nonresidential organizations in low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities, which stand to benefit most from efficiency investments, according to an ACEEE study released today.

Our research is the first to explore how these program implementers are trying to reach LMI communities by providing services to local groups such as nonprofits, schools, government offices, businesses, medical facilities, shelters, and community centers. We examined 39 programs serving such nonresidential organizations in LMI communities and found that six exclusively target low-income areas. The other 33 programs use targeted outreach and incentives to reach LMI communities within existing programs. This approach facilitates enrollment and participation for organizations in these communities.

Typically, low-income energy efficiency programs focus on residential buildings. They do not often reach or serve nonresidential organizations, though energy efficiency provides many benefits to community-serving institutions in low-income areas. It can reduce capital and maintenance costs, shorten time spent on building maintenance, and reduce monthly utility bills. As a result, these institutions can spend more of their money on their projects and within their communities. Energy efficiency can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve indoor health, and boost economic stability.

Despite these benefits, community-serving institutions in LMI communities often have fewer financial resources and face additional barriers to investing in energy efficiency. They deal with historical policies of economic and social exclusion, such as discriminatory lending practices, underinvestment, and redlining. Therefore, these organizations may need additional resources to improve energy efficiency in their buildings.

What our study reveals

The 39 programs we analyzed are offered by 28 implementers across 22 states. About a third of the programs serve only one organization type, while the rest serve multiple types of organizations. Nonprofits are the most common organization served, followed by small businesses, educational institutions, and religious centers.

Although approaches differ in scope, most programs offer measures with high energy saving potential (e.g., lighting, heating system upgrades) as well as additional guidance.  

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ACEEE blog, 13 Nov 2019: How do efficiency programs serve low-income communities? New study takes a look.