Thomas PickelBy Thomas Pickel

Thomas Pickel is the Executive Director of DeSales Community Housing Corporation and President of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis.

A version of this op-ed originally appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In response to the possibility of Ameren’s energy efficiency programs shrieking to a halt, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board issued a rallying cry that now is the time for Missouri to “ramp up its efficiency programs—not shut them down.”

We agree. Missourians have a major opportunity to reap big benefits from energy efficiency. Families save on utility bills. Building owners increase the value of their properties. And business owners create new jobs.

Right now, it’s a missed opportunity.

The Clean Power Plan, a historic effort to reduce harmful carbon pollution produced by power plants, will give Missouri power companies double credit toward compliance with the Plan for energy efficiency investments that are made in low-income communities.  This would mean investments of millions of dollars to help revitalize our neighborhoods.

Ameren’s proposed energy efficiency programs—rejected by the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC)—would invest $10.75 million via a cutting edge program to bring energy savings and increased comfort to low-income families living in apartments. That could catapult Missouri toward getting those double credits.

Fannie Mae knows that the cost of energy is a major challenge in making sure affordable housing remains sustainable for the families that need it. Across the country, energy costs are 37% higher per square foot in low-income rental apartments than in condos or co-ops, 41% higher than rented single-family homes and an astounding 76% higher than owner-occupied single-family homes.

The toll also goes beyond the wallet. The problems that cause a building to be energy inefficient — for example, poor air filtration or inadequate insulation — exacerbate chronic health conditions like asthma.  These health problems can lead to missed work and school and more visits to the hospital.

Ameren, the PSC, and other stakeholders must work to find a solution regarding recovery of program costs. More than 70% of the affordable multifamily buildings within Ameren Illinois and Ameren Missouri service territories are NOT engaging in current energy efficiency programs—despite the fact that affordable multifamily housing is aging and offers a huge opportunity for untapped energy savings and lower energy bills. As a result, multifamily housing ranks as the least energy efficient building type in the residential sector.

Improving the energy efficiency of affordable multifamily housing will help thousands of Missouri families who call affordable housing home – and it will go a long way in helping Missouri create a sustainable energy future.

A new multi-state partnership, Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA), released a Potential for Energy Savings report that clearly illustrates the impact of energy efficiency investments. According to the report, improving the energy efficiency of low-income housing will create significant economic impact in Missouri—a return on investment of $3.20 for every $1.00 made in energy efficiency improvements.

Savings like these have a real impact on real people—225,000 St. Louis families and seniors who call affordable housing home will see lower energy bills all while improving the value of affordable housing.

And it creates good jobs in a high-growth industry. In Missouri, the clean energy industry already employs 40,000 people—the majority of whom work in energy efficiency—at 4,400 businesses. In the next year alone, these firms expect to add 3,000 new jobs to their payrolls.

The state’s energy plan provides the framework to make this kind of change possible. Utilities and their regulators can strengthen the Missouri programs by using best practices that leaders in other states are putting in place. They can:

    • Develop programs specifically targeted to multi-family low-income buildings.
    • Structure incentives for whole-building savings.
    • Support benchmarking, audits, and other assessments.
    • Support a “one-stop-shop” where building owners can access integrated program services.
    • Help building owners finance efficiency projects by tailoring incentives to fit with conventional purchase and refinancing loans, partnering with lenders active in the local market, and exploring on-bill payment arrangements.

Those who are most vulnerable to the financial and health toll of energy inefficiency have been left behind for too long. When it comes to energy efficiency, little steps can make a big impact. Low-income families need the investment that Ameren included in its most recent plan. Now is the time to take action.

Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri- St. Louis.