Reducing Energy Costs for Limited-Income Households in WNC
At Energy Savers Network, we are on a mission to lower the energy burden of limited-income families in Western North Carolina by mobilizing skilled volunteers to install energy-efficiency measures in their homes. We provide comprehensive energy assessments and weatherization assistance, including installing interior storm window inserts, insulating water heaters, replacing furnace filters, and switching out energy-consuming light bulbs.
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Many strategies for addressing climate change involve incentives for renewable energy, but offer little to low-income families, so we provide energy efficiency at no cost to these clients. Limited income households are most affected by the energy burden and the consequences of pollution and a changing climate because they:
- live in lower cost and energy inefficient homes such as mobile homes and older houses;
- have limited financial ability to perform maintenance or upgrades;
- tend to think less about “long term” upgrades due to short term financial stress just to meet minimum needs;
- are often renters versus owners; and
- do not have the knowledge of how to improve their homes or efficiently use home energy.
Over 3,000 low-income families in Buncombe County receive LIHEAP (Limited Income Home Heating Assistance Program) as their poorly insulated homes result in winter heating bills over $400/month. At least 18,000 households in Buncombe County live in energy inefficient manufactured homes. A recent report from American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), The High Cost of Energy in Rural America: Household Energy Burdens and Opportunities for Energy Efficiency, determines many benefits to addressing the energy burden of the rural poor, including:
- Lower cost burden and energy stress
- Reduced utility disconnections
- Reduced pollution and improved health
- Improved property values
- Preservation of affordable housing
- Greater customer satisfaction
Now a program of the Green Built Alliance (GBA), Energy Savers Network (ESN) is part of an ambitious effort achieve 100% renewable energy for Asheville and Buncombe County by 2042. The City of Asheville recently declared a state of Climate Emergency, requiring community mobilization and changes in federal and state law, policy, and funding to make this goal possible. Energy Savers Network, working through the Blue Horizons Project, is part of the community response to this need.
ESN started as a grassroots movement for volunteers to begin this work before community funding was available. Brad Rouse helped found ESN’s precursor, The Green Team, as a ministry of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Hayesville, NC. Instead of donating money to pay utility bills for people in need, The Green Team went to the root of the problem, reducing energy use. The Green Team connected with limited income communities, handing out LED bulbs and upgrading homes to lower their energy burdens. Their efforts won them the national Interfaith Power & Light “Cool Congregations” Award in 2015. After moving from Hayesville to Asheville, Brad met Alice Wyndham, and together they decided to organize volunteers similar efforts in Asheville. In 2017, Green Built Alliance became the program’s fiscal sponsors, and Energy Savers Network was born.
Since then, ESN has experienced enormous growth. Our volunteers and staff have committed thousands of hours of work, completing energy upgrades for nearly 1000 homes. ESN has been recognized by community leaders for its innovative approach, receiving the “Environmental Organization of the Year” award in 2018 from the Sierra Club and the “Energy Innovator” award in 2019 from the Energy Innovation Task Force.
Green Built Alliance has been with ESN from those early days and provided valuable fiscal sponsorship, help in fundraising, hosting of initial staff, and community connection. Agencies such as Mountain Housing Opportunities, Asheville – Buncombe Community Christian Ministries, Eblen Charities and others connect us to those who most need our help. Our community funders have included Rotary Club of Asheville, New Belgium Brewing, All Souls Cathedral, Community Foundation of WNC, Duke Energy, City of Asheville, Buncombe County and many individuals. Our most notable financial support has come from the City of Asheville and Buncombe County.
Our long-term plan is to keep growing to meet the need for climate action and support the 30,000 households in Buncombe County that meet our income requirements. City and County funding has allowed ESN to add a full time project workday leader, Kelvin Bonilla, who brings a strong background in building science and weatherization to the team. Green Built Alliance now has overall operating responsibility for ESN efforts, and ESN operates as a program of GBA. This combination will provide the organizational capability and streamlined decision making that can make this future a reality!
We envision a future where our Western North Carolina community has come together to foster efficient, healthy and affordable housing for all, and our children can look forward to a bright future living in a just and sustainable world.
Our mission is to mobilize our community to work one house at a time to help lower the energy cost burden for our modest income neighbors. Our volunteers provide a suite of energy saving options and education at no cost to all clients, plus identify options for greater savings. We offer this as one among many solutions to the twin crises of climate change and inequality.