Sierra Club
Press Release

Energy Burden in Milwaukee: Study Reveals Major Disparities & Links to Redlined Areas


By - Apr 8th, 2021 04:10 pm

Milwaukee, WI — Keeping the lights on. That’s what utilities and energy providers proclaim they do. But what happens when utility bills become a burden – or more precisely, an over-burden?

That is what’s occurring for many Black and Latinx households in Milwaukee according to a new analysis, Energy Burden in Milwaukee: Study Reveals Major Disparities & Links to Redlined Areas, from Alliance for Climate Education, Black Leaders Organizing for Community, Citizen Action of Wisconsin – North Side Rising Co-op, the Sierra Club, and Voces de la Frontera. Census data from 2013 to 2018 reveal stark contrasts in energy burdens – the percentage of income households pay for their energy bills. Households in well-off white neighborhoods may have an average energy burden of 1% or less, versus the 7 – 10% (or higher) many in predominantly Black or Latinx neighborhoods pay.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The same neighborhoods that were historically redlined in Milwaukee are among the most impacted by the pandemic, and have disproportionately high rates of asthma and other health issues. Many of these households will also be affected by the Public Service Commission decision to end the utility shutoff moratoriums. Disconnection notices could be going out as early as next week, potentially leaving people without power and gas for many critical functions.

“Electricity and gas are necessary to life, like food and air – we need to treat them like the human right that they are,” said Keviea Guiden, Community Organizer with Black Leaders Organizing for Communities. “People are forced to make life-altering decisions about paying their energy bill or another critical expense, and often have to go without. Energy access and affordability is essential, especially during COVID, for physical health and mental wellbeing.”

The analysis shows several forms of inequity, personal stories of the lived experiences of high energy burden and compounding challenges, and ways that community leaders can work in partnership with those impacted to address the disparities. The release of the analysis featured residents talking about the personal impacts they have faced.

Tesha, resident of Milwaukee’s South Side elaborates, “People who have walked this walk, lost their job, can’t work, lost income, quit jobs to support their children’s virtual learning – for whatever reason – it causes a domino effect. We Energies isn’t looking at people’s income situation. They don’t understand, but if they really empathized, it would help people and give people hope. When I got energy assistance, I felt so good with that burden off my back. That feeling of cutting people off, or threatening with high, up-front payments – no one should feel that feeling.”

“This is a long-standing problem, and the pandemic has further revealed the structural inequities. This is one example of how much work we have to do in order to meet the commitment to equity and justice that Governor Evers has said we have to make,” said Sierra Club Wisconsin Chapter Director, Elizabeth Ward. “The time to act is now to not further increase the burden on those who can least afford it. We look forward to working with leaders at the local and state level, as well as with We Energies, to find ways to address this stark disparity.”

Wisconsin, and especially Milwaukee, has some of the worst racial disparities in our country. We can and must do better, and we can start by ensuring that our most impacted communities do not have to suffer further from undue energy burdens when power is something that should be a basic right for everyone.

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