Relieving California’s low-income energy burden

May 25, 2016

Although Californians spend less on energy than nearly any other state, that benefit is not shared equally among its inhabitants. California's low-income households spend more of their wages on energy than other households, according to a recent report, suggesting that while The Golden State's energy efficiency programs have made important strides so far, there is work to be done to improve efficiency in low-income construction. 

The report, authored by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Energy Efficiency for All coalition, and supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council, found that low-income households nationwide spend as much as 7.2 percent of their income on energy, more than twice the national median of 3.5 percent.

"There is work to be done to improve efficiency in low-income construction."

While the gap in California was smaller, there remains a pronounced difference between low-income households' energy expenditure and their median-income peers, according to the report. In the Los Angeles metro area, for example, energy spending represents about 2.8 percent of household income across the board, according to the report. Looking specifically at low-income households, however, that figure shot up to an average of 4.6 percent. The gap in California was at its largest in San Jose, where low-income households put 3.8 percent of their income toward energy, compared to less than 1.8 percent for median-income households.

Improving efficiency
While there is work to be done to reduce energy spending for its low-income residents, California has a promising history when it comes to increasing savings for those who need them most. Since the 1990s, the Energy Savings Assistance Program has equipped millions of California low-income residences with basic energy retrofits that can reduce utility bills by cutting energy usage. 

As big an impact as this program has had so far, there is certainly room for improvement. As the NRDC notes, while serving over 225,000 households in 2013, the program only saved enough electricity to power 13,000 California households for the course of a year. As we move forward, we must continue to prioritize energy-efficiency in low-income residential buildings. Ensuring new construction is as efficient as possible is a crucial step in continuing to bring down these costs.