Memphians Ask TVA for Energy Efficiency Solutions to Extreme Energy Burdens

Guest Blog | September 12, 2016 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Justice, Energy Policy
Community members gather to share stories of energy burdens and learn about energy efficiency solutions.

This blog is the second in a series SACE is publishing on recent energy efficiency meetings between TVA and community members all across the Tennessee Valley. The first blog, focusing on TVA customers in rural East Tennessee, can be found here

As part of a statewide organizing effort, communities across Tennessee are meeting with Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) staff to discuss extreme energy burdens and how the utility can help reduce unnecessarily high utility bills, especially for low-income customers.

In Memphis, Tennessee’s largest city, old housing stock and a lack of economic resources to make home improvements has led to energy bills that can represent more than 25% of a family’s annual income. Generally, energy costs represent anywhere from 6-11% of a family’s annual income. For low-income families, however, utility bills can creep higher and higher as energy escapes out of leaky windows, leaky doors and poorly insulated attics and walls.

Many Memphians are no stranger to economic hardships, with almost 30% of the population living in poverty. In recent years, Memphis has had the highest poverty rates in the United States, both overall and child poverty rates, among Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) with populations greater than 1,000,000. Although there are many factors contributing to high poverty rates in Memphis, unnecessarily high energy bills make it extremely difficult for families to stick to a budget and meet other basic living needs. According to a recent report by the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy (ACEEE), Memphians are paying the highest percentage of their income on utility bills out of any major city.

With facts like these, it’s no wonder community members were eager to share their stories with representatives from TVA at a recent meeting organized on August 18 by the Just Energy Memphis coalition groups, the Memphis Branch of the NAACP, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Sierra Club.  Madeleine Taylor, Executive Director of the Memphis NAACP, pointed to extreme summer heat and persistent poverty issues as reasons why TVA should be working proactively to ease energy burdens for Memphis communities.

“We would hope that TVA would understand and respond to the diverse needs of West Tennessee in climatic conditions and economic development.  The extreme temperatures we have experienced this year have severely impacted this area, which also has the highest incidence of asthma and respiratory ailments in the country.”

Madeleine Taylor, Exec. Dir. Memphis NAACP

Mrs. Taylor and a group of community members joined together with TVA representatives to share their stories and offer suggestions for energy efficiency programs. Thankfully, TVA is currently engaged in discussions through its Energy Efficiency Information Exchange stakeholder planning group about developing new energy efficiency solutions for low-income families. To make sure local communities have a voice in the planning efforts, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy worked with TVA and local partners to help convene five local stakeholder groups across the Valley in August, including the one hosted in Memphis.

More and more, Memphis leaders and community members are recognizing the role these extreme energy burdens play in creating a cycle of poverty for low-income and African-American communities and are sharing these concerns publicly through recent articles written by Rev. James Netters, City Councilwoman Patrice Robinson, and Memphis NAACP executive director Madeleine Taylor. Former Tennessee Senator Beverly Marrero attended the meeting and felt that, all in all, it was a successful meeting.

“Many opinions and concerns about access for low income citizens were expressed. Hopefully they will be well received by the powers that be at TVA. As Memphis has a large population, we also have a large number of people who sometimes fall through the cracks in the system. I think some of our concerns were thoughtfully expressed at the meeting.”

Former Tennessee Senator Beverly Marrero

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