NY HEAT Act could bring big energy savings to Bronx households

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As the delayed state budget is being finalized, some local environmental groups are advocating for the NY HEAT Act, which could bring big savings for Bronxites’ energy bills. 

The cost of heating, cooling and fueling homes is a significant burden to many households throughout the state but especially in the Bronx. The HEAT Act would help the state transition away from systems that run on fossil fuels while ensuring that low-income households and neighborhoods are protected from high costs.  

Households in the Bronx pay some of the highest energy burdens in the city — which makes the potential savings would be huge for those living in the borough, according to Celeste Perez, state climate policy manager with the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA). The South Bronx nonprofits Nos Quedamos and The Point CDC are member organizations.

The HEAT Act, if passed, has a provision that would put a cap of 6% on household energy bills, meaning that households would put no more than 6% of their income towards electricity, gas and delivered fuels such as propane. Currently, about 34% of Bronx households pay more than that cutoff, according to research from the think tank Win Climate. 

The 6% figure is based on affordability research recommending that households spend no more than 30% of their income on housing, with no more than 20% of that chunk going towards energy costs — putting the recommended affordability threshold at 6%. 

Advocates say that the HEAT Act’s affordability provision would save Bronxites an average of $134 per month, or roughly half of their current costs.

The Win Climate data shows that savings would vary by neighborhood but all Bronx households would save at least $100 per month — and in some neighborhoods closer to $200. 

Why are Bronx residents putting so much of their income towards energy costs? Perez said it’s partly because the Bronx has a high number of low-income households but also because systems and buildings in the borough tend to be outdated and inefficient when it comes to energy use. 

Too many Bronx families “end up spending so much of [their income] just for everyday necessities for their homes,” Perez said.

Perez also said that she has even seen households get the opportunity to receive a free air conditioner but “they choose not to put it in because they can’t afford to cool their home because of the electricity cost.”

Within the Bronx, the areas with the highest energy burdens are Community District 1 and 2 (Mott Haven, Hunts Point) and Community District 3 and 6 (Belmont, East Tremont and Crotona Park East). Approximately 39% of households of those neighborhoods face high energy burdens of over 6%.

Perez said most of the state’s utility companies support the bill, but it looks like it may be held up by the State Assembly — so she urges Bronxites to contact their local assembly members to push for it to be included in the budget. Bronx Assembly Members Jose M. Serrano, Luis Sepúlveda, Nathalia Fernandez and Gustavo Rivera have co-sponsored the bill.

But even if the HEAT Act doesn’t make the cut, NYC-EJA and its member groups are prepared to keep pushing. 

“Even after the [budget] negotiations, we still want the bill passed, whether it’s in the budget or not,” said Perez.

Reach Emily Swanson at eswanson@schnepsmedia.com or (646) 717-0015. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes