Most Louisianans are spending more time at home than ever before as we try protect ourselves from COVID-19. That also means our household energy bills also are spiking as we crank up the air conditioning, make more trips to the fridge, and use other appliances and equipment that soak up electricity.

With higher electric bills showing up in Louisiana mailboxes, many of us have to make decisions about whether to pay them or put that money toward rent, medicine, or even food.

You may have heard that Louisiana has low electric rates, but are you experiencing those rates as low bills? Most of us don’t. That’s because every year residents of Louisiana use 30% more electricity than the average U.S. household. And that was true even before the pandemic.

This means thousands of residents in our state have been bearing heavy burdens because they pay a larger percentage than most on their utility bills. Last year, almost 340,000 Louisiana residents paid 13% percent or more of their income toward keeping their lights on — and almost half of them spent nearly one-fourth of their income on energy. Those numbers will be even higher this year with household incomes plummeting and home energy use surging.

One reason Louisiana’s energy burdens are so heavy, even in normal years, is that we lag behind in energy efficiency. Sure, we may have replaced some of our old-fashioned lightbulbs with LEDs (and saved money doing it), but there is a lot of potential for far more energy savings. However, Louisiana trails neighboring states like Arkansas, which succeeded in reducing energy bills by investing in efficiency programs that led to improvements, like more insulation, more efficient AC units, and weatherization. That’s because Arkansas’ Public Service Commissions directed the utilities to establish programs to help customers cut energy waste. Arkansans have saved over $500 million from EE programs since 2011.

Here in Louisiana, utilities like Entergy and Cleco have only offered small efficiency programs since 2015. These limited programs were intended to last for just two years while more substantial programs were developed. Unfortunately, it’s now three years later and these programs — and guidelines for them — have stalled out at the Louisiana Public Service Commission, while Louisiana residents struggle to stay healthy in their homes.

Our five-person Public Service Commission has an important role to play in protecting people in their homes, and they should immediately prioritize developing programs that reduce energy bills and energy poverty in our state. We can’t stand the heat anymore.

SAMUEL SANDERS

Housing FIRST Alliance of the Capital Area

Baton Rouge