May 31, 2023 | Rachel Ellis
Albuquerque is a city with inadequate housing infrastructure, high levels of poverty, and economic disparity. There has been continued disinvestment in the metropolitan area’s rural, low-income, and underserved communities. One way to understand the impacts of these problems is through a concept called “energy burden.” Energy burden is a way to measure the cost of energy relative to a family’s annual income.
Albuquerque’s International District has one of the highest energy burdens in the city. With the median income in the International District being around $27,000, residents struggle to keep up with energy bills while also affording rent, food, and medication.
Prosperity Works, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to supporting low-income New Mexicans, developed a unique model of community engagement using a small grant from NM Foundations to determine what a “just energy transition” for communities could be. The plan that emerged triggered an additional $200,000 grant that set the stage for Prosperity Works to provide energy efficiency services to 300 homes in the South Valley in 2020 and 2021.
Based on the success and understanding gained in that project, the City of Albuquerque provided $100,000 that supplemented existing energy efficiency programs provided by New Mexico Gas Company and the Public Service Company of New Mexico, New Mexico’s largest electricity provider. This model of capital stacking, and the combination of multiple funding sources and social services, delivered more comprehensive benefits to residents that are essential to improving the health, safety, and comfort of aging housing stock while reducing costs and carbon emissions. Community Energy Efficiency Development (CEED) complements existing federal, state, and utility efficiency programs and extends the number of New Mexicans living in poverty who receive assistance.
Beyond the basic energy efficiency retrofits provided in 50 homes — LED lighting, advanced power strips, EnergyStar refrigerators, high efficiency shower heads and faucet aerators, water heater tanks, pipe insulation, air sealing, duct sealing, and attic insulation — the Community Energy Efficiency pilot project provided critical services to 10 homes in the International District. Services included EnergyStar roofs, high efficiency water heaters and evaporative coolers, air source heat pumps, and EnergyStar doors.
CEED Block Grants in New Mexico can improve utility affordability, reduce energy burden, and increase utility access for low-income residents. Those living in rural, low-income, and other underserved communities spend much of their income on utility bills. Making energy efficiency improvements and providing electrification services in low-income housing cuts energy use, improves the quality of affordable housing stock, and will help governments achieve zero-carbon electricity targets.