3 ways low-income Americans can benefit from the Clean Power Plan – if states do the right thing

Diane Regas

When the price of goods and services jumps, it hurts low-income Americans – people who operate with the least in savings and the thinnest of margins – the most. 

So it will come as good news that low-income communities may actually stand to gain significant benefits from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from power plants, as long as states play their cards right.

In fact, when dirty power plants are replaced by clean energy, millions of Americans could benefit from lower power bills, better health and good jobs – and sometimes all of these at once. Here’s how.

1. Electric bills go down 

The EPA estimates that average monthly bills will be lower in 2030 with the Clean Power Plan than without it.

Clean energy investments, driven by goals set for each state to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, are expected to save an average family nearly $85 on their average bill that year.

Household energy bills may drop, yet it is critical that companies deploy programs that are truly accessible to all customers – especially those in low-income communities.

To make sure electric bills would remain affordable for America’s most vulnerable communities, the Clean Power Plan offers forward-looking companies and states extra compliance credit for deploying energy efficiency investments early – and specifically so in low-income urban and rural areas.

The strategy also takes advantage of a real and growing market trend: the increasing affordability of renewable power.

Clean energy is becoming accessible to a wider spectrum of American households.

The price of solar has fallen 80 percent since 2008. Today, rooftop solar is being deployed in middle-class neighborhoods and, finally, in low-income neighborhoods nationwide.

Thanks to new financing models such as solar leasing and community solar programs, clean energy is becoming accessible to a wider spectrum of American households. We’ve seen on-bill financing work to bring energy efficiency to rural electric co-ops in North Carolina, and it can and should work elsewhere.

Household budgets also benefit from incentives such as net metering, which creates long term benefits for all customers by crediting their bill any time they send surplus energy from their solar panels back to the grid. In Massachusetts, for example, public housing residents are expected to save $60 million from a net metering deal.

Utilities and regulators must take advantage of the opportunity to lower bills for the most vulnerable. The structure is in place, models are out there. Let’s make it happen.

2. Americans breathe cleaner air

Sulfur-dioxide and nitrogen-dioxide emissions from plant smokestacks cause a host of respiratory problems, including asthma. Mercury and other toxic heavy metals emitted by dirty power plants also threaten the health of people living near or downwind from such plants.

These health impacts are often felt more acutely by low-income communities. For example, Americans living within a three-mile radius of a power plant have a per-capita income $18,400, 15 percent lower than the U.S. average.

These communities stand to gain a lot from cleaner air and from the added benefits the Clean Power Plan offers when it protects Americans from a range of toxic pollutants, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA estimates the law will provide at least $14 billion dollars in public health benefits by 2030. It will also avoid 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks and 90,000 asthma attacks each year.

3. New clean energy jobs boost employment, wages

In addition to energy savings and health protections, the Clean Power Plan will create tens of thousands of new jobs in the clean energy sector by 2040, the EPA says.

This is part of a broader trend. The solar industry employed nearly 209,000 Americans in 2015 after adding jobs 12 times faster than the nation as a whole did last year. Another 240,000 new solar jobs are expected to come online in 2016.

These jobs have been a boon for those who need them the most, including veterans and lower-income communities. These groups made up nearly one-third of solar industry workers, making wages that exceed what many of these workers have traditionally made, a 2014 Solar Foundation study found.

Meanwhile, America’s booming wind energy industry has brought thousands of new jobs to rural communities in states such as Texas, Colorado and Iowa. In 2015 alone, Texas wind jobs kept more than 17,000 people employed.

These industries will continue to thrive when states look for clean energy opportunities as a way to comply with the Clean Power Plan – and they should aim to bring all Americans with them.

This is how we can all enjoy the many benefits of a clean energy economy, one that looks very different from where we are today.