Electrons on the grid are alike but not the price people pay for them. “Rural households paid an average of $1,679 for electricity over the twelve months ending June 2020. This amounts to 3.3 percent of all their expenditures, again on average. … In contrast, the forty-eight million households considered to be located in central city areas paid an average of $1,292 for electricity over that same twelve-month period.  That’s almost a quarter less than what rural households paid.” (Source)

As the nation barrels into its energy transition this kind of detail is especially important. Rural households seem to be starting in a hole as the great energy transition begins. Making up for lost ground is a challenge.

Note Carolina areas of poverty. (Source)

Poor population

Rural residents are also more likely to be poor. “Approximately 43 percent of households in rural areas have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, increasing vulnerability to high energy burdens. Low incomes, high energy use, non-ownership status, and inefficient housing stock are some of the key drivers of high energy burdens, which can place significant financial stress on families and other households.” (Source)

Cost to deliver power

Urban electric grids have less territory to cover than rural service territories. The companies that provide the power may be smaller and less resourced, too. An acceptable cost for a big company may be a heavy lift for a smaller one.

Note the poverty difference in the South, non-metro areas. (Source)

Over wide rural areas the infrastructure deliver power can be inconsistent. Households often must rely on less efficient methods of accessing energy for critical needs. (Source)

Infrastructure extends to housing, too. Rural housing values tend to be lower and the ability to finance home upgrades – including energy efficiency – are limited. Homes deteriorate over time.

Lack of incentives

Home dwellers may not be the homeowners. “Renters, who make up about a quarter of rural households, experience higher-than-average energy burdens. Split incentives may be a barrier to efficiency in rental properties. If the owner does not pay the energy bills, then he or she may not want to invest in efficiency upgrades to lower those bills. On the other hand, the renters who pay the bills may not have an incentive to invest in energy efficiency upgrades for a property that they do not own, even if such investments would lower their energy bills over time.” (Source)

Wind turbines – not in a metro area

However, energy and rural sites go together.

There is a natural alignment of power generation and rural areas. “Renewable energy and farming are a winning combination. Wind, solar, and biomass energy can be harvested forever, providing farmers with a long-term source of income. Renewable energy can be used on the farm to replace other fuels or sold as a ‘cash crop.’” (Source)

Greater attention needs to be paid to rural energy burdens. Rural communities need to be brought on board the energy revolution that is starting. Said the columnist I quoted to start this blog: “All in all, the electric bills paid by rural households are generally more burdensome. So I cannot help thinking that this factors into how many of our rural citizens feel about priorities as we plan the nation’s energy future.”