Investigating High Energy Costs in Massachusetts: A Step Towards Affordable Energy for All

By: Lindsay Griffin, Northeast Regulatory Director 

For many residents of Massachusetts, energy bills constitute a significant portion of their monthly expenses. Whether it’s heating their homes in winter, cooling homes in the summer, or powering essential appliances year-round, the cost of energy can place a considerable strain on household budgets, particularly for economically disadvantaged families. As energy prices continue to rise, the affordability gap widens, exacerbating economic inequality and threatening the well-being of financially vulnerable communities.

What’s promising is the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) started the year strong by opening an Inquiry into Energy Burden with a Focus on Energy Affordability for Residential Ratepayers. The Bay State, which has some of the highest energy costs in the country, while also being renowned for its progressive climate policies and commitment to sustainability, is embarking on a significant investigation into the soaring cost of energy bills. This inquiry represents a crucial step towards addressing the affordability crisis faced by residential ratepayers.

The decision to launch an investigation into the high costs of energy bills is a commendable and necessary move by the DPU. In Massachusetts, the average energy burden for all households is about three percent, but the average energy burden for low-wealth populations is about ten percent, and in certain neighborhoods, the energy burden is as high as 31 percent. This affordability crisis disproportionately impacts economically-disadvantaged  families and marginalized communities, who spend at least 3.5 times more of their income on energy than moderate to higher wealth households, exacerbating existing socioeconomic inequalities.

By shining a spotlight on the factors driving up energy prices, policymakers can identify systemic issues, inefficiencies, and market dynamics that contribute to the affordability crisis. This investigation provides an opportunity to conduct a thorough review of existing policies, regulations, and utility practices to determine where improvements can be made.

Addressing the energy affordability crisis in Massachusetts is not just a matter of financial relief for households; it also holds the potential to improve public health outcomes, boost economic productivity, and promote greater energy equity across the state. A comprehensive approach that tackles the root causes of high energy costs can pave the way for a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable energy future for all residents.

In addition to policy reforms, community engagement is essential in shaping the future of energy affordability in Massachusetts. Residents, advocacy groups, and community organizations should have a seat at the table, providing input, sharing experiences, and advocating for solutions that reflect the needs and priorities of local communities. By fostering collaboration and dialogue, stakeholders can work together to develop inclusive and effective strategies for addressing the energy affordability crisis.

Vote Solar used the public comment opportunity to provide recommendations to the DPU on the design of residential affordability programs. We also endorsed the comments from our partners, the Environmental and Consumer Advocates. Our colleagues at the Conservation Law Foundation, solicited a survey encouraging Massachusetts residents to provide their unique perspectives on how they have been impacted by energy burden. The volume of comments and intense detail provided in the record will be an incredibly valuable tool that helps illustrate the real life impacts of high energy costs to regulators. Community members who took the time to complete this survey and submit comments truly made an impact. 

While this proceeding is still in its early stages, we are looking forward to continued engagement and working with fellow advocates and Department Staff to make energy rates more affordable.

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