The building where I have the good fortune of having my office affords me the view of two Atlantas. To the north you see the river of light which is I-75/85, coursing through Midtown.
But to the south, which includes Downtown and Southwest Atlanta, I see six zip codes full of mostly low-income families and communities of color that pay almost 10 percent of their household budget towards their energy bills, while the rest of the state pays about five percent and the country pays about three percent on average.
While that may not seem like a large number, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers six percent as unaffordable.
Simply put, some of the most-in-need households cannot afford to keep their lights on because “it is just not in the budget.”
This is what social scientist like to call “energy burden” – when you divide your household energy bills by your household income.
For families in Atlanta that number is significantly high – actually the fourth highest in the nation behind Memphis, New Orleans and Birmingham, according to a recent study by Georgia Tech.
That means that Atlanta families – especially low-income families who skew more African American in metropolitan Atlanta – pay more for their energy bills compared to their household incomes than families in neighboring large Southern cities.
Atlanta has always been a leader in a variety of ways, but to add this statistic to our city’s growing list of inequities is mind-boggling.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helped more than 161,000 Georgia households receive $61 million in energy assistance in 2014, but that is not enough.
Some families do not qualify for LIHEAP and other programs and find themselves turning to friends, other families, and the local church just to keep the lights on.
I am afraid to think about the families who do not have any resources to turn to when the weather is sweltering like it is now or freezing like it will be in a few short months.
But before those cold months hit, I want to help provide some solutions for our families to address their energy needs and help eliminate Atlanta’s burden of being a leader in energy injustice – because it is truly an injustice when we have families – Black families – suffering in 2018.
I invite local leaders, activists, clergy, community organizers and families to the Just Energy Summit 2018, Sept. 21-22, at Morehouse College, where we will help inspire people to take action for a more inclusive clean energy future for Metro Atlanta and the American South.
Community leaders will be able to walk away with tips to help their constituents make their homes more energy efficient without having to buy expensive appliances or completely remodel their homes.
Activists will hear from some of the top names in the fight for an equitable clean energy future including, Denise Fairchild, president and chief executive officer of Emerald Cities Collaborative, and co-author of Energy Democracy.
Finally, families will be able to see how our current modes of producing energy do not have their best interests at heart, but how clean energy can ensure that their children have a cleaner environment and, hopefully, more money in their pockets at the end of the day.
It is my goal in life to make sure that the transition to a clean energy economy is not just a code word for “displacement,” where African American families cannot participate in the move because they can’t afford it or don’t understand how to take advantage of it.
This summit will help all of us to see that an inclusive clean energy future is possible.
I think my friend Fairchild said it best in a Governing article that “the clean-energy transition is as profound and disruptive to the status quo as the changes in the music and telecommunications industries.
And it’s exciting! It can strengthen our energy, economic and health security. That’s a vision that minority communities fully support — and our leaders should too.”
I encourage you to visit justenergysummit.org for more information about attending the Just Energy Summit 2018 and to see how you and your family can benefit from the move to cleaner sources of energy, which can mean better jobs, inclusive quality development, and a healthier community.
I am glad you are considering becoming a part of the community of changemakers who have the courage to stand up to the broad and complex issues that surround energy burden and injustice and ensure that we all prosper.
I look forward to seeing you at the Just Energy Summit 2018.
Nathaniel Smith is the founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity and chairman of the Atlanta Public School System’s Affordable Housing Taskforce.