Understanding Energy Insecurity

Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC) staff work with participants from communities all over the state who face the burden of energy insecurity. EOC and our partners see the hard choices people are having to make to afford their basic needs, and how rising energy prices have created even more of a financial burden for them.

Being unable to afford the energy needed to keep a home at a safe temperature and with lights has cascading ramifications for those living in this limbo that go beyond the financial burden of high energy costs. But despite how widespread energy insecurity is across the country, the full-scale impacts of it and who faces that burden are still misunderstood.

To help shed light on how so many aspects of daily life are impacted by energy insecurity, researchers writing in the ‘American Behavioral Scientist’ took a holistic approach to study who is facing energy insecurity and the drastic steps they take to keep the power on in their homes.

The study used decades of data to better understand the homes living under the threat of a disconnection in the United States, what circumstances can contribute to disconnection, and how families try to cope with energy insecurity.

Some of the significant findings from the study include:

  • Low-income households, households with children, and families who are of color or have no college experience were the most likely to face disconnection.
  • Income is not the only factor in energy insecurity – 38% of households who received one or more disconnection notices in a year had a gross income of at least $40,000. And in more than half, the head of the household had some college experience.
  • Families in mobile homes, renters, and older homes with poor insulation faced a higher risk of disconnection.

How families deal with energy insecurity is another piece of this study that drew our attention. Researchers found that families facing shutoffs would often “use their bodies as buffers against the effects of energy insecurity and by extension poverty.”

The researchers continued:

“Rather than seeking outside resources, affected households shield themselves against high costs by going hungry, managing without medication, and enduring hotter or colder household temperatures than are comfortable or healthy. These approaches are more readily available and can be managed privately at the individual/household level without external intervention.”

Researchers believed federal and state programs needed more support to help families facing energy insecurity, and stronger disconnection protections needed to be in place to prevent families from the harm of living without power.

“The low usage of energy assistance … points to the need for a more robust ‘energy safety net’ at the national (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program), state (shut-off restrictions), local (retrofit and emergency assistance), and utility (deferred payment plan) levels.”

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