Why Electricity Costs Are Major Cause of Poverty In the South

Fifty years ago, President Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in America, and Congress passed legislation to increase support and economic opportunities for the poor. Appalachia was the “poster region” for this grand endeavor.


While there has been meaningful progress, too many Appalachian counties remain among the poorest in the U.S. The reasons are many and complex, but a primary factor is the region’s over-dependence on the coal industry. It permeates virtually every facet of life, as the recent spills have revealed.

As coal continues its inevitable decline, the need for economic diversification in the region is brought into sharp focus. People in Appalachia deserve opportunities to prosper in ways that preserve the region’s natural heritage to pass on to future generations.

Although there is no silver bullet, there are important steps we can take right now. As a new report by our Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil shows, growing a strong energy-efficiency business sector in the region holds tremendous promise. Here’s what Rory found: families in the Southeast pay a higher percentage of their income for electricity compared to the national average, and they’re primarily concentrated in some of the poorest rural areas. They often spend as much as 20% of their income on electricity. This winter, some families had $400 electric bills, forcing some to make impossible choices between paying their electric bills or paying for other necessities like food, housing, education, and health care.

If financing for energy efficiency improvements was made more available by electric utilities, families could benefit from major savings on their electric bills right away. In addition, investing in energy efficiency can create thousands of jobs and foster local businesses.

A “war on wasted energy” makes sense for many reasons, and it would provide a much-needed boost to communities in Appalachia and across the South who are most in need.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.