Energy insecurity is understood as the impacts stemming from the inability to pay one's energy bills. In the Southeast, nearly 9 million low-income households — representing more than a quarter of all households in the region — pay in excess of 10 percent of their gross household income on energy bills. That energy burden far exceeds the generally accepted threshold of 6 percent. Families impacted by this prevalent issue are often forced to make choices between keeping the lights on or spending their money on other essential expenses such as food, housing, or healthcare.
Energy insecurity stems from many factors, including income, energy costs, the quality and affordability of housing, historical practices and policies, access to efficient building technologies, and more. Because the causes and effects of energy insecurity are so far-reaching, there is a need for coordinated approaches that cut across sectors to address its many facets, and effective solutions must be responsive to the unique context of the South.
With this goal in mind, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, in partnership with Appalachian Voices and the North Carolina Justice Center, developed the Southeast Energy Insecurity Stakeholder Initiative in 2021 to facilitate a broad, collaborative discussion to explore opportunities for reducing energy insecurity in the region. Opportunities are outlined in this report, and efforts to address them must take place at different scales and in different venues.
While diverse, recommendations highlight several key themes. All recommendations also share an understanding that energy insecurity is a set of entwined issues. While this makes it difficult to address effectively by any one party, it also provides an opportunity. By following the path laid out in this report, we have the potential to build regional networks that level existing network and institutional hierarchies, bring out new voices, and give all communities in the Southeast a say in their energy future.