More than 288,000 households in North Carolina live at 50 percent of the poverty line, and spend 35% or more of their income on energy.

According to the U.S. Census, nearly 100% of households in North Carolina have access to heat and air conditioning. This statistic can be misleading. Having access to heating or cooling in a home does not mean that the residents of that home can afford to pay the utilities to cool or heat the house. Energy poverty occurs when a person spends a disproportionate percent of their household income on utilities. In many cases, the compounding factors of inefficient housing with increasing days of extreme heat or cold weather, mean that the proportion of household income that is directed toward utilities become unsustainable. Renters often have very little control over the appliances and heating and cooling systems in their houses. Often this means that household members must make difficult choices between the purchase of food or medicine and operating the heat or air conditioning.

Energy Burden by Income Category

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Source: The Home Energy Affordability Gap by Fisher, Sheehan & Colton, 2016.

Experts believe that the threshold in which energy is affordable is 6 percent of the household’s income. However, in many cases, energy costs make up much more than 6 percent, particularly among low income households. In fact, in the lowest income group, those who are at 50 percent of the poverty line, pay more than 30 percent of their total household income toward energy costs.

According to the latest U.S. Census data in 2015, more than 288,000 households in North Carolina live at 50 percent of the poverty line, and face energy burdens of 35% or more. Another 371,000 households in North Carolina live at 50% to 100% of the poverty line and face a 19% energy burden. This means that more than 650,000 households in North Carolina approximately 20% or more of their household income in energy costs.