A new report from the Iowa Policy Project concludes the state’s energy efficiency programs should be altered to help more low-income residents. I.P.P. research associate Teresa Galluzo says low-income Iowans spend about 13% of their income on home energy costs compared to 3% for other households. In addition, her report claims one-fifth of Iowans with low-incomes account for one-third of the state’s residential greenhouse gas emissions.

“So, while low-income Iowans don’t consume as much energy per household as upper-income Iowans who tend to live in bigger homes, they consume more energy per square foot because of the inefficiency of their homes and appliances,” Galluzo said. The report targets three policy initiatives for expansion. Galluzo says Iowa’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is effective, but only reaches 2,000 homes per year.

As of 2009, more than 165,000 Iowa homes were eligible for weatherization services. “So, we have a lot more families that could benefit from that program,” Galluzo said. The report also recommends requiring all utilities to offer state-regulated energy efficiency programs that serve low-income Iowans.

Currently, consumer-owned utilities do not have to target low-income customers with those programs. Federal tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act offer a 30% credit for many energy efficiency improvements, but Galluzo say the credits are non-refundable – meaning they only benefit families that earn enough to pay federal income taxes. She suggests structuring the energy efficiency tax credits so low-income households can benefit.

“So, there are some obvious holes in Iowa’s energy efficiency strategies,” Galluzo said. “We could really take advantage of targeting our low-income population and making a difference in terms of addressing climate change and making a big difference in the budgets of low-income Iowans for years to come.” The Iowa Policy Project is based in Iowa City.