App Voices maps poverty, cost of heating

Article Published: Mar. 27 | Modified: Mar. 27

A recently launched map program by Google shows that families in the Southeast pay more for electricity when compared to the national average.

The map also shows that those affected families are primarily concentrated in areas served by rural electric membership cooperatives.

Appalachian Voices, a Boone-based environmental advocacy group, is one of the entities invited by Google to provide one of the maps featured in its new platform, Maps Gallery.

Another Appalachian Voices map in the Maps Gallery shows poverty rates in the South, and a third shows the average poverty rate by utility service area, according a news release.

According to map data, residents in the Southeast spent an average of 3 percent of their income on electricity costs alone. For low-income families, electric bills can be as high as 20 percent of the household income.

Additionally, the data indicates that Southeastern families served by public power utilities, such as rural co-ops, spent on average 8 percent more on electricity than those served by investor-owned utilities in 2012.

Newly released numbers by poverty awareness officials and U.S. Census data show that Watauga County is currently ranked third statewide for residents living in impoverished conditions.

Part of the electrical burden is because many homes in this region are poorly insulated and weatherized. Additionally, many residents are still using inefficient appliances, resulting in significant energy waste, according to Appalachian Voices.

Rory McIlmoil, energy policy director for Appalachian Voices, said there is plenty the average consumer can do to lower utility bills.

“One way that electric utilities can help is by providing cost-effective and comprehensive home energy efficiency programs known as ‘on-bill financing’ loan programs,” McIlmoil said. “These programs allow the homeowner to repay the loan over time with each electric bill, while also saving money immediately as a result of using less electricity.

“A small percentage of utilities in the Southeast, particularly public power utilities, currently offer this type of program; however, only one out of eight residents, at most, has access to financing for home energy efficiency.”

Aside from poorly insulated housing, the dynamic and unpredictable nature of weather in the Appalachian region can drive up energy prices.

“We have more extreme changes in weather than other areas of the country,” McIlmoil said. “That can definitely contribute to higher demand and higher costs.”

McIlmoil also said that while local rates are higher than the national average, higher demand for electricity -— in terms of constantly heating and cooling — can still drive up overall costs.

Appalachian residents are also using a higher percentage of their income, which is below the national average, in paying utility bills, he said.

For more information or tips on how to save on your monthly electric bill, visit

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