Living in rural areas has a quiet, slow-paced appeal compared with the hustle and bustle of the city, but the slower-paced life also comes with a unique set of challenges. Not the least of these is the cost of electricity.
According to a new study released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) coalition, rural households across the United States spend a disproportionately high share of their income on energy bills.
The study, titled "The High Cost of Energy in Rural America: Household Energy Burdens and Opportunities for Energy Efficiency," was released in July, and its authors describe it as the “first to focus on the energy burdens shouldered by those living in rural America.”
According to the study, rural households spend about 40 percent more on energy than their metropolitan counterparts. The figures vary by region, but the burden is most glaring in the East and Southeast. Overall, rural households have a median energy burden of 4.4 percent, which is one-third higher than the national burden.
Energy burden is defined as the percentage of a household’s income spent on home energy bills for needs such as air conditioning, heating, lighting, appliances, and cooking.
The report attributes the high energy burden to a number of factors. Low income increases the energy burden. Rural households with low income have a median energy burden of 9 percent, which is almost three times that of higher-income counterparts.
Other factors include a home’s physical condition, a household’s ability to invest in energy-efficient equipment and upgrades, and the availability of efficiency programs and incentives that put energy-saving technologies within reach.
“Utilities serving the region are way behind when it comes to making smart investments in energy efficiency,” said Tom Cormons, executive director of Appalachian Voices, which joined the authors in releasing the report.
The report’s authors emphasized the potential of efficiency programs to alleviate the burden of energy costs and other problems unique to rural living, including mitigating indoor health risks, expanding home ownership and increasing employment and economic development.
The study notes rural households make up roughly 16 percent of all U.S. households and are spread across 72 percent of the nation’s land area.