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with Energy Burden Solutions 

Aulander, NC


Rural, economically-distressed areas across North Carolina consist heavily of low-income residents who face high levels of energy burden. Energy burden, or the share of income spent on energy bills, limits what households can spend on other necessities such as food, medical supplies, and transportation. High energy burden often results when a dwelling lacks proper air sealing, insulation, and maintained equipment. Residents facing high energy burden can face greater health risks such as reduced air quality, mold, and pest infestations.  


The characteristics of homes facing a high energy burden can include: 

  • Residents are often low-wealth 

  • Homes are often older, constructed before improved building codes 

  • Equipment such as a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit are often older and in need of repair or replacement 

  • Can be in urban or rural settings 

  • Manufactured and multi-family residences make up a large percentage of homes facing high energy burden 


A geographic example of widespread energy burden is the Roanoke Electric Cooperative (REC) territory in northeastern North Carolina. The territory spans seven counties where 20.34 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty level, over 65 percent higher than the national average. Additionally, about 69.61 percent of the area housing stock was constructed before 1990 and over 30 percent of homes are mobile or trailer homes. 

In 2015, REC launched its energy efficiency program Upgrade to $ave to offer relief to member-owners facing high energy bills. The program provides a free home energy assessment for member-owners followed by energy efficiency upgrades at low-to-no upfront costs. The resident then over time pays a small monthly charge on the utility bill that is more than offset by the energy savings that result from the home upgrades. Residents enjoy lower bills along with higher comfort levels and health benefits. 


NCSEA is working with REC to incorporate data analytics and marketing by identifying program participants who are likely to benefit the most from the program offerings. One current strategy is implementing targeted marketing to homes with the highest energy intensity, or energy use per square feet. These homes receive energy reports that show the customer's energy usage along with other materials such as program brochures and educational one-pagers. These efforts are increasing the participation in Upgrade to $ave and will likely lead to increased energy savings for participants since the targeted marketing is increasing awareness of program benefits to the residents in highest need of home upgrades. 

Learn more about Upgrade to $ave

Note: Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau and Roanoke EC

Energy Burden

Shirley Garris, Homeowner 

Randy Cherry, Homeowner

Marshall Cherry, COO Roanoke Electric Cooperative

The REC territory spans seven counties where 20.34 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty level, over 65 percent higher than the national average.

 "In an area such as ours that has faced tough economic times, there are going to be plenty of residents struggling to make ends meet,"

said Marshall Cherry, REC's chief operating officer.

"We have heard directly from our member-owners about the energy burden they face and we knew that as a provider of a vital service that we needed to be a part of the solution." 


"The Upgrade to $ave program provides energy efficient upgrades that results in significantly lower energy bills for the member-owners of co-ops."

Laura Langham

Director of Market Innovation

NC Sustainable Energy Association

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