Electrification Disadvantages Energy Insecure Homes

Energy insecure homes spend more on energy costs than the average household, a gap that will likely widen with the increasing electrification of homes.

The Cost of Energy Insecurity

The Energy Information Agency’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey found that 34 million households (27 percent of all U.S. households) identify as energy insecure, and are more likely to report having drafty, poorly or not insulated homes. Five million of those households were not able to use their heating equipment in 2020 because of repairs and fuel costs.

According to the EIA, energy insecure households were billed $0.20 more per square foot of energy than the national average, and $0.26 more than households that didn’t experience energy insecurity. These are not the households that can afford to switch their homes to run entirely on electricity when it is three times the cost of natural gas. In contrast, the municipalities that have voluntarily electrified their homes are often very wealthy and do not suffer from the “heat or eat” dilemma that the energy insecure homes would experience in an electrified building.

Municipalities in California that voluntarily electrified have an approximately 60 percent higher median household income than the U.S. average, and municipalities in Massachusetts that have applied to or expressed interest in joining the states electrification pilot program (Boston, Arlington, Newton, Lexington, Cambridge, Brookline) have a 50 percent higher median income average than the state and earn 90 percent more than the U.S. average. In September 2022, three of the Massachusetts communities vying to join the program – Arlington, Newton, and West Tisbury – were at risk of failing to qualify for the program because of the lack of affordable housing stocks, a prerequisite to joining the electrification program.

And as these wealthy cities leave the natural gas distribution grid, the costs of the grid are shared by the households who can’t afford to leave and pay the price of those cities’ departure. According to the calculations of UC Berkely Haas researchers, a 20 percent reduction in residential gas customers increases bills around $40 for year for remaining customers, and a 40 percent reduction increases bills $115 a year.

Missing The Target

The “electrify everything” movements’ focus on switching out appliances often omits the need to improve building efficiency for residents. There are 40 million homes across the county that are weatherization eligible, and the DOE only manages to seal and improve the energy efficiency in 35,000 homes a year. Without fixing the problem of building efficiency, electrification would have higher cost heat options seeping out of drafty buildings.

In 2022, more than 700,000 New York residents tapped into federal emergency funding for heating assistance, yet  New York State passed a natural gas ban in new buildings with their 2023-24 budget. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) secured an additional $1 billion in emergency funding to keep the program aloft, but will likely be looking for additional funds each year once his state’s ban goes into effect in 2026.

And instead of working with policymakers to improve the state of residential housing, which would decrease emissions through improved efficiency, electrification advocates are busy stirring fears about indoor air quality from natural gas stoves, exporting their “Keep It In the Ground” tactics to residential kitchens.

Bottomline: Energy insecure homes are paying for more energy, and will be forced to pay more if building electrification continues at its current pace. Electrification proponents’ lobbying will increase the price of affordable natural gas options for residents or force them onto higher cost electricity, instead of working to reduce the number of energy insecure households while decreasing building emissions in absolute terms with building efficiency.

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