In 2022, the Florida Chapter of Sierra Club requested that Greenlink analyze the energy burden of four cities in the sunshine state – Orlando, Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Tampa to provide foundational data for energy policy impacts.
Energy burden is a measure of affordability. It’s the percentage of a household’s income spent on electricity and gas bills; in the United States, an energy burden of three or 4% is typical. An energy burden greater than 6% of income is considered high, while those greater than 10% are severe.
Over the past three years Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign that aims to replace all coal power plants with clean energy. Having good data provides insights on where things stand the communities most affected by energy policies.
Greenlink undertook an in-depth analysis of the intersections between energy, health, and housing inequities across all four cities to reveal how those paying unfair amounts on utility bills face an onslaught of other issues that perpetuate poverty. Two of the reports have been published so far – Orlando’s in February 2023 and one month later, Jacksonville’s.
The Orlando Report found that communities in western and southwestern Orlando pay about 130% more of their monthly income on energy bills than the national average. The Jacksonville report found that all neighborhoods experiencing the highest energy burdens are predominantly Black and/or African American communities.
“People pay for utilities before they pay for most other things,” says Sharanya Madhavan, a data scientist for Greenlink Analytics. “The research shows us that people with high energy burdens are more likely to skip meals, not fill prescriptions, and prioritize utility bills over rent or mortgage payments, placing them at a higher risk of eviction and foreclosure.”
Many circumstances can contribute to these unaffordable bills, including unhealthy housing conditions, income inequality, and lack of access to opportunities and the levers of power and information that drive policy change. People who experience higher energy burdens also frequently have higher rates of heat stress, asthma, chronic heart disease, and mental health challenges.
The simple truth is it doesn’t have to be this way. We can intentionally repair the legacy issues that lead to this unfair playing field. The key is having accurate data and using this to jumpstart conversations with communities, policy makers, utilities. This can lead to addressing energy burden and providing people the opportunity to climb the economic ladder, all while transitioning to clean energy options.