In rural South Carolina, Maxine Stroman struggled to pay her energy bills. Her husband had recently died, leaving her the sole source of income for their two young children. “I had to make some choices on whether to pay my high energy bill or cut back on my grocery bill or cut back on other day-to-day necessities,” she said.
Her fortune changed after her home was weatherized through the Aiken Electric Cooperative’s Help My House on-bill program, which slashed her monthly electric bill from about $400 to $230 and improved her indoor air quality. “I can now actually afford to pay my bill,” said Stroman, a resident of Aiken, a town on the state’s western tip. “[The program] really did change my life.”
Like Stroman, many residents of rural communities throughout the United States have high energy bills, often because they live in poorly insulated homes with old lighting, appliances, and furnaces. Marilyn Bryce Schanhals, manager of the Aiken Electric Cooperative program, said that many of the homes in its service area are mobile homes. “They’re losing energy through leaky ductwork,” she said, “and we want to help them to reduce that loss and cut down on their monthly costs.”
A recent report by ACEEE found that rural residents have energy burdens (the percentage of household income spent on energy bills) that on average are about 40% higher than those of metropolitan dwellers. Particularly hard hit by high burdens are rural low-income, elderly, and renter households, as well as those residing in manufactured and multifamily housing.
Energy efficiency and home weatherization programs can greatly reduce this burden and make energy bills affordable, especially in rural communities. By evening out indoor temperatures, they can also make a house more comfortable. Rural utilities can offer a variety of programs to help reduce their customers’ energy bills.
In the fall ACEEE will release a second report on rural programs that explores lessons learned from program leaders across the country, and in October we will hold our first-ever Rural Energy Conference in Atlanta. We invite you to become part of the dialogue as we meet to discuss how to improve and expand efficiency programs that serve rural communities.