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Energy Stories of API Community living in the Twin Cities Area

By CEED, Oct 3, 2023

Written by Phitz Nantharath

For the past three years, I have worked closely with the Asian Pacific Islander(API) community in the Twin Cities conducting outreach to create greater awareness around energy efficiency programs. 

In the Fall and winter of 2022, I reached out to almost 200 API households living in the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs. I have heard their Minnesota winter stories, how they cope with rising utility costs and  poor housing infrastructure. 

Energy affordability and access to energy efficiency services remain a problem for the API community in the Twin Cities Area, especially for low- and moderate-income households.

  • Higher energy costs
  • Lack of comprehensive low-income and multifamily programs
  • Older and less efficient appliances, equipment, and homes
  • Lack of discretionary capital to invest in energy efficiency measures
  • For renters, the “split incentive” problem and lack of authority to make property modifications

Many API families don’t have enough upfront capital  to weatherize their homes. The poor, the chronically unemployed and elderly who live in the Twin Cities area are at ground zero in the struggle to cope with the high prices for gas and electricity..  economic, social and physical stress spiral exponentially higher the lower a household is on the income ladder. 

Low-income households typically spend more than three  times the level that other income groups spend on utilities as a percentage of their income. . The proportion of income going towards home energy costs is growing despite notable conservation efforts on the part of low-income households. As costs escalate, households who get behind on their energy bills face termination of service.

The need for energy assistance is much greater than the coverage currently provided by current federal appropriations for this purpose, and still greater than the energy-user funded appropriations, especially now that all of the North and South Side Green zones are pre-qualified and soon areas of concentrated poverty will be too. 

The experience of energy insecurity triggered mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression in many families, including those who were not meeting the income qualifications and other barriers in weatherizing their home. For instance, the constant threat of service interruptions due to non-payment fueled parental fear and stigma. Moving represented a way out of the discomfort for some participants who expressed feelings of shame and a disruption of family life when living through a utility service disconnection.

Community members have suggested offering a different way of investment in energy upgrades – inclusive financing – through a utility bill that would support energy-savings efforts. The Energy Efficiency Cohort – a peer learning energy efficiency cohort of community based organizations has suggested setting up community energy hubs with navigators who can support community members in accessing and navigating the complex tapestry of energy programs. My engagement work with the API community has made it apparent to me that culturally specific outreach remains incredibly crucial to combating the various socio economic barriers under resourced communities face in accessing energy efficiency programs. 

About Phitz:

I am Phitz Nantharath, honored to represent the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community in the Twin Cities Area. Over the past three years, I have dedicated myself to supporting our community with a focus on addressing a significant challenge—high energy and utility bills. This issue stems from a lack of accessible utility education and resources within our community.

In my commitment to making a positive impact, I have actively participated in the Twin Cities Energy Efficiency Peer Learning Cohort. This collaborative effort aims to enhance energy efficiency specifically for BIPOC, low-income, and renter communities.

Professionally, I serve as the Program Manager for the Comprehensive Cancer Control Program at the Minnesota Department of Health. My career has revolved around health equity research and community well-being education, particularly focused on the Asian Pacific Islander community.

I hold a diverse educational background, including a BA in Human Resources and Marketing, an MS in Human Resources Development, and an MPH in Community and Environmental Health from the University of Minnesota. Currently, I am pursuing my doctoral degree in Public Health Education and Leadership at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

My passion lies in eliminating health disparities and advocating for equal healthcare and education access for all communities. Together, let us continue the journey towards a healthier and more equitable future.

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