Ensuring equal access to energy efficiency programs

ACE members at the barnraising

As part of the Green Justice Coalition (GJC), we have been working to reduce global warming by weatherizing homes in lower-income communities and communities of color. This reduces our neighborhoods' carbon footprint and helps families save on utility costs. We're also campaigning for the jobs created by these programs to pay good wages and hire locally.

There are two kinds of energy efficiency programs in the Boston area: those managed by utility companies, and Renew Boston, a city initiative funded by federal stimulus dollars. All programs are free for residents, but both types have significant barriers to participation in environmental justice communities. Under utility company programs, residents must usually pay for energy-saving appliances out of pocket and apply for rebates later. With Renew Boston, many homes in lower-income communities have to be brought up to code at the homeowner's expense before qualifying for the program.

Last month, ACE members, in partnership with the GJC, New England United for Justice, the Greater Boston Labor Council and the Carpenters' Union, participated in a pre-weatherization barn-raising at Roxbury resident Betty McGuire’s home in Grove Hall. Like many residents, Betty had applied to Renew Boston, but was told she needed to make repairs before work could begin.

Apprentices from the Carpenters' Union helped pour cement floors in the dirt basement, cleaned up asbestos, installed sheetrock and more alongside ACE members and the GJC. Meanwhile, organizers went door-to-door in Betty's neighborhood to share how neighbors can access weatherization services and funds. Afterward, we hosted a press conference highlighting the need for state funds to cover pre-weatherization costs so lower-income residents can access home weatherization services.

At the same time, our Environmental Justice Legal Services (EJLS) program lawyers are representing Community Labor United (CLU) at the Department of Public Utilities to push for the equitable distribution of utility companies' energy efficiency programs. Every utility customer pays a surcharge that helps fund home weatherizations and cost-saving upgrades, but people with lower-incomes may not be able to afford the upfront cost of these services.

We're working with the GJC, a coalition convened by CLU, to develop legal strategies to ensure equal access to energy efficiency programs and safe, living-wage jobs to local workers.

Staci Rubin, ACE Staff Attorney said, "Having legal representation at the Department of Public Utilities hearings allows us to monitor utility companies’ energy efficiency programs for any disparities."

Return to February 2011 Member Update