Many Georgians, particularly low-income families, struggle with high energy bills. Lower income families spend a larger percentage of their income on energy bills and sometimes find themselves forced to choose between keeping their lights on and paying for other basic necessities, such as groceries or healthcare. High energy bills can lead to a number of other problems, including financial instability and various health issues resulting from improper heating and cooling. For all of these reasons, energy is an equity issue in Georgia. Continue reading to find out more about energy equity, including what you can do today if you are struggling with high energy bills.
“Energy equity” refers to the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of the ways we produce and consume energy. It includes reducing rising energy costs to ensure that families can afford their basic needs without having to make unhealthy trade-offs, making homes and communities healthier by increasing access to energy efficiency and clean energy like solar, and ensuring decision-making around energy policy is more reflective of the needs of all communities.
Energy efficiency simply means using less energy to perform the same function. For example, LED light bulbs use less energy to provide the same amount of light as a traditional incandescent light bulb. Energy efficient homes are well-insulated with few or no air leaks, and they have efficient appliances and heating and cooling systems. State and federal weatherization and energy efficiency programs offer assistance and incentives for home upgrades (air sealing, installing LED light bulbs, installing Energy Star appliances, etc.) that reduce energy usage.
The Many Benefits of Energy Efficiency
- Financial stability. Addressing high energy burdens through energy efficiency improvements can significantly reduce struggling families’ utility bills, increasing their financial stability, and help them avoid risky, predatory loans.
- Lower energy costs. By using less energy over time through efficiency measures, families can reduce their power costs and significantly lower their utility bills, even during periods of high energy usage (like hot summer days in Georgia).
- Improved individual health. Families struggling to pay their utility bills may reduce necessary energy use, such as heating and cooling. Living in improperly heated or cooled homes increases cases of asthma, heart disease, and other respiratory problems, especially in children and elderly individuals. Increased health problems in turn lead to more hospital visits and medical bills, which only add to a family’s already high financial burden. Energy efficiency can reduce the need to cut back on necessary heating and cooling and improve the health of families.
- and more!
To learn more about energy equity and the benefits of energy efficiency, take a look at Georgia Watch’s policy guide, Keeping the Lights On, and one-page factsheet, Energy Equity in Georgia.
Below is a list of various resources to help you if you are need of energy assistance. Whether you need immediate help paying a bill or are simply interested in being energy efficient in your home, you will find helpful information!
Emergency Financial Assistance
If you have a utility bill you can’t afford to pay, you may need to do one or more of the following:
- Ask for a payment plan. If you have a past due bill and are worried about being disconnected, call your utility and ask about a payment plan to help your pay off the past due bill and keep your lights on.
- Apply for the Georgia Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Apply for LIHEAP at your local community action agency. LIHEAP offers one-time payment assistance to help with a high utility bill. Visit the Georgia Community Action Association website for more information and to find your local community action agency.
- Contact Project SHARE. Project Share is a statewide program administered by the Salvation Army that provides emergency financial assistance. Call 1-800-25-SHARE for more information.
- Contact your church or place of worship. Local churches and places of worship in your area may provide emergency financial assistance for individuals struggling with utility bills.
Energy Efficiency Measures
If you can afford your current utility bill but would like to lower it, you can start by determining how to reduce your energy usage.
- Weatherization Assistance Program. WAP and utility-based energy efficiency programs both provide “whole house” energy efficiency upgrades for low-income households struggling with high utility bills. Heating and cooling systems, electrical systems, lighting, and appliances are all inspected for energy inefficiency and fixed where possible. Contact your local community action agency for more information on the program and how to apply in your area.
- Free Energy Audit. The utility sends an auditor to your home to assess how much energy your home consumes and to evaluate what measures you can take to reduce your energy use and lower your bill.
- Georgia Power customers can get free energy audits to identify their home’s energy efficiency needs. Visit their website for more information on how to receive an audit. They also offer rebates and incentives for energy efficiency measures (installing LED lighting, smart thermostats, etc.). Call 1-877-310-5607 to inquire about their Home Energy Improvement Program.
- EMC members and municipal utility customers can also get free energy audits. Call your energy provider to inquire about getting an audit.
Better Management of Energy Bills
If you would like to have more control over your energy consumption and better manage your bills, contact your utility to ask about billing plan options and whether a prepay program is right for you.
- Discuss your billing plan. Contact your utility to discuss your current billing plan and whether another plan, such as budget billing, would be more suitable for your needs.
- Prepay. Georgia Power customers can enroll in the PrePay Program, which offers them more flexibility and better management of their utility bills. Visit the PrePay website or call 1-877-506-3905 for more information.
- Senior discounts. Learn about whether your qualify for a senior discount. Visit the Public Service Commission’s website for more information.
- Choose the right gas company. See the Public Service Commission’s guide for selecting a gas company that best suits your needs.
Want to get active in your community?
For more information about how to become a member of Georgia Watch’s Speakers’ Bureau and get trained to deliver the “How to Save Money on Your Utility Bills” workshop to your community, visit our volunteer page or contact Berneta L. Haynes at email@example.com. Join the Energy Equity-GA group on Facebook here to meet other Georgians interested in energy equity and stay up-to-date on events and opportunities around the state!
Tell us your energy equity story!
Have you ever struggled with energy bills and found yourself making difficult decisions to keep the lights on? Georgia Watch would like to hear from you!