About 455,000 Albertans live in energy poverty. Hard pressed to pay their utility bills, these low-income families spend three times more of their disposable income on heat and power than the average household. For the poorest, the stark choice may be to “heat or eat.” Living in cold, damp homes impacts the energy poor’s health and well being, especially the elderly, young, disabled or those with long-term illnesses. It thus also increases public costs for health care and social services.
The most cost-effective, sustainable solution to energy poverty is to increase the energy efficiency of these households, starting with those most in need. Realistically, this can only happen through well-organized programs backed by substantial subsidies. Many
jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S. already operate such programs for low-income households. The results can be dramatic: improved living conditions for the poor, reduced public health-care costs and a cleaner environment.
There’s a widespread form of poverty in Alberta that is rarely discussed. It is energy poverty, the inability of financially-strapped families to maintain adequate energy services at a reasonable cost.
Energy poverty takes its toll on health and wellbeing, particularly among the young, elderly, disabled and those with long-term illnesses. Cold, damp homes can contribute to a wide range of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses and health conditions including heart attack and stroke, reduced lung function, suppressed immune systems, asthma attacks and exacerbated arthritis. Living at cold temperatures is also associated with increased injuries in the home, stress, social isolation and, for children, impaired educational success.
Energy poverty thus results in increased public costs for health care and social services. One study suggests that every $1 spent on raising living temperatures to acceptable standards saves 42 cents in health-care costs.
It is a little known fact that the inability to pay basic utilities/energy is the second leading economic cause of homelessness in the country.
-Edward de Gale
The most cost-effective, sustainable solution to this problem is to increase the energy efficiency of energy-poor households, starting with those most in need.
All One Sky Foundation is partnering with The City of Calgary Seniors Services program to help weatherize the homes of low-income seniors. We raise funds for water-efficient faucets and shower heads, weather stripping, window vinyl, CFL light bulbs and on occasion, new doors. The City installs the hardware. Seniors save an average $260 per year on utilities.