Energy costs are a burden for all Madisonians — in our current times, maybe even more so, given the recent inflationary pressures, supply chain disruptions, and consistent extreme weather events that bring heat waves, flooding, and more to our region.One may think that energy costs for Madisonians are actually low compared to state and national averages. On average, Madison households spend $1,621 monthly, compared to the national average of $2,177 and the state average of $2,051 in Wisconsin. But 350 Wisconsin’s Community Climate Solution Team’s new report, Low-income Energy Burden in Madison, Wisconsin: A Climate Justice Challenge, finds otherwise:
The average percentage of income spent on energy overall (average energy burden) for low-income city households is 4%, which is double the city average of 2%.
Extremely low-income households spend 10% of their income on energy. That would likely make energy costs one of the larger expenditures in a home’s budget.
There are ways to alleviate this issue, such as:
Increasing public knowledge and awareness so that policymakers may address the problem;
Integrating low-carbon building features into all publicly supported affordable housing policies and programs;
Providing direct assistance/support to low income residents;
Establishing new climate justice programs that simultaneously address high energy burden.
Madison must do better for all of its citizens. Energy costs are likely to rise as we continue to face extreme weather events and other issues in our state. Low-income communities are already bearing a higher burden as a result. We must act to provide efficient, equitable access to energy. In so doing, we also will reduce our carbon emissions.
If you would like to dive deeper into this report, click the link below to download the document.
Recently, the Community Climate Solutions Team (CCST) released a report addressing Madison’s need for Green Building Incentives. One question the document left unanswered was how the city could fund such programs, especially considering that Wisconsin’s laws do not allow for taxes to be levied for this purpose.
Raised $100 million since its creation in 2018 for clean energy community projects
Funded projects supporting underserved members of Portland’s population that
Retrofit contractors’ businesses for green construction and clean energy;
Promote regenerative agriculture practices to capture carbon, improve air quality, and rewild urban landscapes; and
Address gaps in training, certification, and career advancement for BIPOC, low-income, and women-identifying people working in clean energy, energy efficiency, and green building sectors.
This would not have been possible without collaboration across all levels of government and with stakeholders within the community. BIPOC leaders from more than 200 organizations came together to establish partnerships and built the capacity needed to bring about success in this initiative.
But how can Madison create a similar program while avoiding using any taxpayer funding? CCST explored many opportunities, including:
Reallocation of existing city resources
City bond financing
Community-based financing strategies
Supplementary financial mechanisms
A Clean Energy Fund would reduce carbon emissions while assisting low-income families by financing clean energy community projects. It would encourage collaboration between stakeholders throughout the city, and invest in initiatives that support and strengthen Madison’s diverse communities, while making significant innovative steps toward addressing climate change.
Wisconsin has a problem with its building standards. Buildings are a huge source of emissions. In the United States, they account for:
39% of total energy use
68% of total electricity consumption
40% of carbon dioxide emissions
But Wisconsin State building codes are both out of date and overly restrictive. Under 2013 Wisconsin Act 270, it is illegal for Wisconsin municipalities to require developers to meet building standards that are stricter than the state’s outdated building codes.
This presents municipal officials with a huge challenge: How to reduce carbon emissions in our emissions-intensive built environment when there is no legal mandate that can be implemented.
Incentives are one answer. To encourage developers to adopt green building standards, many cities have implemented programs that use incentives to reduce financial barriers to meeting these higher standards. The resulting green buildings reduce a city’s carbon footprint, cost substantially less to operate, and are at most marginally more expensive to build.
But there is still no action. Madison’s Sustainability Plan, adopted in 2011, did set a goal of improving buildings and developments through incentives such as expedited permitting and decreased permit fees. But it has been 10 years since this proposal was put forth by city officials, and to date no meaningful action has been taken. The city is in the process of rewriting the Sustainability Plan, but the wheels of bureaucracy are moving slowly, and we do not have time to wait for their next version to be released.
A resource for officials: 350 Madison’s Community Climate Solutions Team developed a case study–based report to help officials make progress toward implementing incentives for developers. Our Green Building Incentive Programs report analyzes tools used across the country to reward developers for decreasing the environmental, economic, and social harms of the current building sector. You can read this 12-page report here:
Why are green buildings important? Green buildings:
Lower utility costs
Improve air quality
Improve water quality
Increase green space
Improve energy efficiency
Increase use of renewable energy sources
Reduce landfill waste and ”heat island” effects
In some cases, motivate the building of low-income housing units
Madison’s implementation of green building incentives could synergize with and thus help the city meet other important goals, including improved transportation access, increased affordable housing, and strengthened and equitable access to services. Such incentives can foster change in the private sector that will positively impact all citizens of this city. Madison has the tools it needs to make change happen, and there is support from our mayor’s office, alders, and sustainability staff.
Madison must do better. Improving city-owned properties with solar panels, insulation, and LEDs is not enough. Expanding the bike paths and helping launch the Bus Rapid Transit system (now delayed) is not enough. Madison must drastically reduce the carbon emissions from the hundreds of soon-to-be-constructed buildings in the city. And green building incentives are one way to do so.