By Thomas Sheffield
Approximately 16% of Nashvillians live in poverty. The cost of energy for inefficient homes falls heavily on our neighbors living in poverty. Their homes are poorly weatherized and often prevent our older residents from staying in their homes. Nashville Electric Service is a publicly owned municipal utility and they provide electricity at rates almost 14% less than the national average. However, homes in the TVA footprint earn less than 50% of the federal poverty level but are spending on average, 29% of their income on utilities. To put this in perspective, we should spend less than 33% of our income on housing. How can we allow anyone pay as much on utilities as they do on housing? As the cost of living rises, it makes the poor more susceptible to predatory homebuyers and causes our communities to go through gentrification. If we live in inefficient homes, we are less likely to have a higher quality of life because of the mental health and physical health among children and the elderly.
How many of us know or know of elderly friends and family that live in old, inefficient homes and cannot afford to pay for upgrades? To conserve energy and lower their heating bills, they resort to living in just one room and close off the rest of the house. I had a cousin to do this and their dish water froze. On February 5th, the Nashville City Council had a chance to help our fellow citizens out. Resolution RS2018-1508 grants NES permission to round up our monthly electric bill to the extra dollar. It will not be more than 99 cents per month or $12 per year. The extra funds will allow 180 homes to be weatherized annually by contractors in your neighborhood.
Some neighbors in affluent parts of town feel this is just a sound good, feel good piece of legislation. They will lead you to believe this is a free handout to help pay electric bills for the poor. They have dispersed information advising this is free service for people too lazy to work for money to pay for their electricity. Some have also suggested in exchange for “free service”, a commitment to volunteer is necessary. If people in poor or underprivileged communities got paid to volunteer, we would all be rich. Minorities, the elderly and the poor already spend more time volunteering than most groups. We don’t get paid when we care for our relatives, give rides to our neighbors to the store or doctor, participate in church functions, volunteer at daycares, and local schools, or participate of our neighborhood watch programs.
There is a successful precedent in Tennessee and other urban areas. Knoxville and Memphis already have plans that automatically enroll utility customers to generate revenue for low income weatherization grants. Metro Council should go on record to request NES to implement the roundup plan to help create educational and employment opportunities to help the customers of Nashville. I encourage all Nashvillians to let their representatives know how you feel and keep the pressure on.
Please feel free to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow me on Twitter @tcsheff. #Resist #WordsActionChange