As summer heat waves converge with a surging pandemic and an impending economic collapse, energy-efficient homes are becoming particularly critical to Americans’ well-being. Millions now face tough choices when it comes to energy usage: The longer they stay home to stay safe from both scorching heat and COVID-19, the higher their utility bills climb.
New York’s state government, for its part, is eyeing a long-term solution to this conundrum. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is collaborating with the region’s investor-owned utilities to provide clean and energy-efficient solutions to more than 350,000 low-to-moderate income households throughout the state.
The collaboration aims to more than double the number of lower-income households that have access to services like voluntary electric load reduction, as well as better insulation and air sealing for more efficient cooling and heating, according to an announcement from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office last week. The initiative will also provide education and community support programs to connect these upgrades to the households most in need.
“We must ensure that all New Yorkers have access to clean energy and are not left behind in the transition to a green economy, particularly those in our most vulnerable communities who most directly feel the harmful impacts of climate change and environmental degradation,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement last week.
The statewide plan will invest $1 billion through 2025. Half of that total will be used to “improve energy efficiency in affordable multifamily buildings,” and more than $300 million has been reserved to “reduce energy burdens by increasing access to energy efficiency for LMI [low and moderate income] homeowners and renters,” according to the governor’s statement. To ensure the long term success of the program, $45 million has been allocated for “community-level engagement and capacity building with community-based organizations.”
John Mandyck, CEO of the nonprofit Urban Green Council in New York City, said that the new initiative is a laudable first step toward a sustainable future that actually benefits all income levels, including those most affected by pollution and high utility costs. He pointed out that energy efficiency upgrades also have the potential to improve indoor air quality for many lower-income households and multifamily buildings, because poor insulation allows pollution from outside of the home to seep inside.
The initiative complements other efforts across the state to blunt the impact of high utility costs. In May, New York City announced that it had allocated $70 million to assist residents with their utility bills and also agreed to give out 74,000 free air conditioning units to the city’s low-income seniors.
However, energy efficiency updates would provide longer term solutions for families that are burdened by rising utility bills, extreme summer heat, and an inability to safely access public spaces during a pandemic. They will also help the Empire State meet its 2050 target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
“There’s no one approach that’s going to move us to a zero-carbon future,” Mandyck told Grist. “It’s going to be a menu of thousands of different items… including this one.”