Winter is almost upon us and, for some Georgians, that means sky high power bills and tough choices. Families with low-to-moderate incomes living in energy inefficient homes may find themselves forced to choose between buying groceries and keeping the house warm, while some families will likely turn to high risk loans to pay their energy bills. Others may put their own health at risk by cutting back on necessary heating in an effort to reduce their energy bills. Because low-income households face a much higher energy burden than their higher income counterparts, energy is a pressing equity issue across the state of Georgia.
On October 13, Energy Efficiency for All-Georgia and partners convened a second Energy Equity Forum in Columbus. The forum brought together members of the community and advocates in Columbus to discuss energy equity and learn ways to save money on energy bills and participate in energy assistance programs.
Last week’s half-day forum hosted at the Columbus Public Library drew participants from a wide range of backgrounds and sparked engaging conversations about energy equity and access in the Columbus area. Participants included leaders from Georgia Power, community action agency advocates, community leaders, policymakers, residents of Columbus, as well as consumer and clean energy advocates from Atlanta and outside the state. Participants learned about energy efficiency benefits for low-income households, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), and Georgia Power’s Energy Assessment & Solutions Program. An afternoon panel discussed community resilience, particularly the need to explore solar energy opportunities in the Columbus area and encourage civic engagement in the upcoming Public Service Commission elections.
Berneta L. Haynes, Director of Equity and Access at Georgia Watch, led the planning of the event along with Southface, Enrichment Services Program, United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley, River Valley Regional Commission, Sierra Club, and National Housing Trust, among others. Speakers included Candace Poole (United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley), Alex Trachtenberg (Southface), Jamie Austin (Enrichment Services), Randy Wilson (Georgia Power), Pops Barnes (Columbus City Council), Jonelle Minefee (Solar Tyme), and Stephen Stetson (Sierra Club).
The forum opened with a lively discussion about how high energy bills disproportionately impact low-income families, who often live in drafty, energy inefficient homes. Participants spoke candidly about their high energy bills, with Columbus residents describing some of the ways they currently try to lower their utility bills. Throughout the day, utility leaders described some of their program offerings, including free energy audits and low-income energy efficiency programs for families hoping to reduce their energy bills. City Councilman Pops Barnes stopped by to discuss why energy bills and consumer protection work matters to Columbus residents. The day closed with a rousing discussion about solar opportunities in Columbus and the significance of the Public Service Commission election next month.
The forum served not only as a conversation-starter about the high energy burden families face in Georgia, but also provided helpful information and resources to enable families to take control over their energy use. For example, raffle winners received free LED light bulbs to replace their old, inefficient bulbs. Columbus residents interested in learning more about how to lower their utility bills also exchanged information with advocates in the room.
Building upon the Energy Equity Forums we have organized in Camilla and Columbus, this forum is the third in a series that will take place across the state. Georgia Watch and our partners are looking forward to keeping this energy equity conversation going in the Columbus area and throughout the state. “We’ve made some wonderful connections in Columbus and can’t wait to continue this conversation. We are always open to requests for our smaller one-hour How to Save Money on Your Utility Bills workshops. We definitely plan to continue our engagement in the area and grow the relationships we’ve seeded here over the past year,” said Haynes.
If you would like to learn more about how to lower your energy bills, please see 10 Easy Ways to Save Money on Your Utility Bills or contact Berneta L. Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to host or participate in a “How to Save Money on Your Utility Bills” workshop. If you want to stay up-to-date and informed on the issue, join the energy equity conversation on FB here.