Energy Insecurity - What Is It, and Why Does It Matter?

Energy Law Journal, Vol. 45 Issue 1 pp.67 - 82

May 15, 2024

Published by the Energy Law Journal

By Robert Fleishman, Emma Hand, Mosby Perrow, and Dr. Diana Hernández*

Editor's Note: The ideas presented in their essay were first shared by the coauthors during a panel presentation titled "Understanding Energy Insecurity" moderated by Virginia State Corporation Commission Chairman Jehmal T. Hudson at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) 2023 Annual Meeting and Education Conference in La Quinta, California on November 14, 2023.

We and the authors have described their piece as an essay and not an article because it is not intended as a comprehensive approach to addressing energy insecurity but as an introduction to the subject intended to highlight select issues. Their perspectives, their hope - and ours - is that their essay will prompt in depth contributions from authors addressing energy insecurity issues in future editions of the Journal.

Synopsis: Energy insecurity is a pervasive issue affecting millions of households in the United States. As elaborated in Part I of this essay, energy insecurity is a framework for understanding the challenge of unmet household energy needs and its adverse consequences. Defined as the inability to adequately meet energy needs, energy insecurity encompasses economic, physical, and coping dimensions.1 Rooted in poverty, the economic dimension reflects financial hardships in paying for utility bills. Its association with inadequate housing in the physical component refers to housing and energy infrastructure that may encumber the achievement of affordable comfort in the home environment. Meanwhile, people take coping actions in the form of restricting energy use to save on the bill, using alternatives such as space heaters or a stove or oven for heat or seeking help from government sources or social networks to make ends. Part I highlights the different use cases of this framework for regulators and other NARUC attendees. Based on comments made by the panelist, each author herein provides insights into specific manifestations of energy insecurity and mechanisms to address this pressing issue. In Part II, Dr. Hernandez summarized a report on the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and described the signals of unmet needs and shortcomings that must be overcome for LIHEAP to achieve higher impact to- wards alleviating the burdens of energy insecurity.2 In Part III, Emma Hand builds on pioneering work on the social distribution of disconnections due to non-payment3 to examine the role of disconnection policies in affecting the frequency of this occurrence and the populations most at risk of facing a disconnection crisis. In Part IV, Mosby Perrow shares the origin story of the Energy Insecurity Initiative, a unique collaboration between the Energy Bar Association and academic partners at Columbia University that is meant to raise awareness among legal professionals so that they play a more central role in addressing energy insecurity issues in the United States and Canada. In Part V, Robert Fleishman beckons our moral conscience based on truths bestowed upon him over a long career as a legal professional in the energy field. Anchored in the wisdom of the philosophical and spiritual greats, Mr. Fleishman's comments remind us that fundamental change is happening and that during a vast and necessary energy transition, we must focus on technologies and just practices that protect the planet as well as approaches that solve an existential threat to people-energy insecurity.

I. Introduction
II. Energy Insecurity and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program in the United States
A. Budgetary Limitations and Enrollment Gaps
B. Heating Prioritization, Crisis Emphasis and Cooling Gaps
III. Utility Disconnections
IV. The Energy Insecurity Initiative
V. Reducing Energy Insecurity is a Moral Imperative.
VI. Appendix


What is energy insecurity? It is defined as "an inability to adequately meet basic household energy needs."4 It is a multi-dimensional construct that describes the interplay between physical conditions of housing, household energy expenditures and energy-related coping strategies.5 Energy insecurity is a broad framework that includes energy burden as one of many factors in a household's ability to meet energy needs.

 Energy insecurity is an issue at the intersection of social inequity and public health7 and is of great concern in the United States and Canada. For example, many communities in the United States struggle to pay their energy bills and avoid being disconnected from their energy services.8 The U.S. Energy Information Administration uses the following measures to assess energy insecurity in the United States: reducing or forgoing necessities, such as food or medical care "to pay an energy bill, keeping the home at unhealthy or unsafe temperatures in order to reduce energy bills, or receiving a disconnection notice for bill nonpayment."9

 Energy insecurity can arise and adversely impact communities due to outside causes that are beyond their control.10 For example, the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic intensified energy insecurity in households already struggling or likely to struggle paying energy bills.11 The COVID-19 pandemic raised interest in electric utility disconnections when customers lost their power when they did not pay their bills.12

 State public service/utility commissions in the U.S. are mandated to ensure reliable services at fair, just, and reasonable rates.13 Inherent in that mandate is the responsibility to serve the public interest.14 One core principle of serving the public interest is promoting and protecting the public's health, welfare, and safety.15 The pandemic highlighted how utility service and its effective regulation is closely related to public health and the overall public welfare.16 Many states placed a moratorium on service disconnections during the pandemic.17

 The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) is the national association representing the U.S. state public service commissioners who regulate essential utility services.18 NARUC understands energy insecurity and the challenges and financial hardships households face when meeting basic household energy needs.19 During its annual summer policy summits, NARUC has regularly held a poverty simulation which allowed interested participants the opportunity understand the challenges facing low-income and vulnerable communities.20 During the poverty simulation, participants: encountered obstacles they faced trying to pay bills and deal with routine responsibilities; explored factors impacting consumer decisions related to utility payments; increased understanding on the challenges and dueling priorities facing low-income and vulnerable communities; and identified specific ways state public service commissions, utilities, and consumer advocates could collaborate to address utility affordability challenges.21

 The energy insecurity framework includes identifying causes and obstacles to address factors that lead to or worsen adverse health issues.22 The term may be classified by the "strategies used to cope, improvise, and counteract the impacts" that reflect the financial hardship associated with making ends meet on limited budgets and the consequences of high utility bills.23 Similarly, energy insecurity is identified as "deficiencies in the physical infrastructure of the home environment that impact thermal comfort, induce harmful exposures and increase energy costs."24 This framework helps us to understand energy insecurity and its consequences.25 Energy insecurity is a framework for understanding the relationship regarding unmet household energy needs can draw connections between the direct effects of inadequate household energy and how vulnerabilities and hardships contribute to the problem.26

 This Essay examines the causes of energy insecurity and preliminarily identifies a few policy frameworks that have addressed these obstacles. The Essay is not intended as a comprehensive approach to solving energy insecurity issues. Rather, it aims to improve the public's understanding of energy insecurity and highlight these issues to prompt in-depth contributions from authors in future editions of the Journal. It also provides "a broader perspective that encompasses a wide range of factors that influence energy affordability and access as well as the long- term impacts on utility customers."27

 Part II of the Essay examines the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and other low-income relief programs in the U.S. to reduce energy burden and their impacts on energy insecurity. Part III examines the impact of disconnection policies on the incidence of energy insecurity. Part IV describes the genesis of the Energy Insecurity Initiative, and Part V explains why the authors view reducing energy insecurity as a moral imperative and how the Energy Insecurity Initiative plans to address a range of key issues.


 Dr. Hernandez spoke first at the NARUC Panel. She stated that energy insecurity is a pervasive issue affecting millions of households in the United States. Defined as the "'inability to adequately meet energy needs,'" energy insecurity encompasses economic, physical, and coping dimensions.28 The economic dimension reflects financial hardships in paying for utility bills, while the physical component refers to housing and energy infrastructure that may encumber the achievement of affordable comfort in the home environment. Meanwhile, people take coping actions in the form of restricting energy use to save on the bill, using alternatives such as space heaters or a stove or oven for heat or seeking help for outside sources.

 LIHEAP is a federal program designed to alleviate the burden of energy insecurity by aiding vulnerable households primarily through bill assistance. While LIHEAP remains a crucial tool in mitigating energy insecurity, there are clear signals that suggest it may be falling short of meeting the growing and persistently unmet needs of energy insecure populations.

 Initially introduced in response to the oil crisis of the 1970s, LIHEAP evolved from a weatherization service to become a comprehensive program with a mission of aiding low-income households in managing their home energy expenses and intervening in financial crisis situations that would jeopardize access to household energy. Presently, LIHEAP functions primarily (though not exclusively) as a heating subsidy, guided by funding formulas created in 1981 or 1984, which at once symbolize its origins and demonstrates a need to revisit this crucial lifeline for energy affordability in the US.29

 A recent report published through the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, the Energy Opportunity Lab, the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (Sabin Center), and the Mailman School of Public Health (set forth in Appendix A to this Essay) offers a comprehensive overview of the LIHEAP program.30

 To analyze LIHEAP, this rigorous report reviewed Detailed Model Plans sub- mitted by the fifty states and Washington D.C., which outline how energy assistance programs are to be administered at the federal and state level annually. In doing so, the report revealed clear signals indicating challenges and gaps in the types of assistance offered by the LIHEAP program and other issues that are hindering its efficacy and impact. Below, we provide a summary of the most salient issues raised in the report that point to the signals of unmet needs and shortcomings that must be overcome for LIHEAP to achieve higher impact towards alleviating the burdens of energy insecurity.

A. Budgetary Limitations and Enrollment Gaps

 The Department of Health and Human Services distributes over 99% of regular LIHEAP block grant funding to participating states. These funds predominantly contribute to direct program costs, with strict limits on administrative spending, capped at 10%. However, only a few states supplement LIHEAP funds beyond federal allocations, which restricts the program's reach. It is noteworthy that the program overwhelmingly supports colder weather states and those with greater proportions of the populations living at or near the federal poverty level as per the 1981 formula.31 When the LIHEAP budget surpasses a specified threshold, activating the "new" 1984 formula, more funding is directed to warmer weather states because the higher threshold provides more support for cooling assistance by equalizing heating and cooling degree days. Unfortunately, this approach often leaves residents in the South and Southeast regions who lack sufficient assistance to combat rising temperatures, with higher energy rates and homes that may not be as efficient (i.e. mobile homes).

 Admittedly, this is an oversimplification of a complex funding formula, but the takeaway is twofold: 1) that the program still operates under very dated formulas that have not been revised to reflect modern times; and 2) the overarching emphasis on providing heating assistance, which is a relic of the program's origin in the oil crisis, negates the reality of greater cooling needs.

 A mere 16% of eligible households in the US receive LIHEAP assistance, highlighting a substantial under-enrollment gap in the program. By comparison, over 80% of eligible households receive Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Pro- gram (SNAP, formerly food stamps) benefits. Further, LIHEAP funding is significantly less than SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, formerly welfare benefits) and housing subsidies. Even with augmented budgets during the housing crisis of the late 2000s and the COVID-19 period, LIHEAP receives fewer dollars and remains significantly lower-funded than comparable federal needs-based programs such as SNAP and TANF.

 Increases in program budgets are short-lived and out of pace with the rising cost of energy and increased demand. In effect, this means that most low-income households are unable to access assistance to offset their energy costs. And those that do receive already insufficient benefits levels, often delay seeking that limited assistance until the point of crisis because of the administratively burdensome application process.32 Finally, inadequate federal funding may prompt states to im- pose more restrictive eligibility requirements, further lowering program participation and increasing administrative burdens. The consequence of insufficient funding at the federal level reverberates at the state level, ultimately hindering the program's ability to effectively assist a broader range of vulnerable households experiencing energy insecurity.

The LIHEAP eligibility criteria, designed to aid the most vulnerable, may unintentionally overlook significant subgroups grappling with energy insecurity. This encompasses households with medical vulnerabilities, as well as those positioned just above the income thresholds. Even if slightly beyond the eligibility criteria, such households may contend with elevated medical, housing, and general living expenses, leaving minimal flexibility in their household budgets to allocate funds towards utilities and other essential needs. Consequently, this leads to limited support for households that stand to benefit substantially from LIHEAP relief.

B. Heating Prioritization, Crisis Emphasis and Cooling Gaps

There are four programmatic components of LIHEAP: 1) heating; 2) cooling; 3) crisis support; and 4) weatherization. Of these, heating is the most common form of assistance, followed by crisis support then cooling aid. Over the years, crisis aid, which is activated when households are at risk of or actively experiencing a utility service disconnection due to non-payment, has been increasing overall and especially in the summer months. This may be partly explained by the fact that assistance provided for heating, cooling, and crisis situations are falling short of covering household energy costs, resulting in large affordability gaps. The average LIHEAP benefit of $400 per year represents a fraction of overall household energy expenditures compared to the average bill of over just over $100 per month and often more during peak cold and warm-weather months.

LIHEAP benefits are insufficient to relieve energy burdens, especially for the lowest income groups, particularly those facing elevated bills due to rising rates and increased energy demands. Although both cold and heat can pose health risks, LIHEAP assistance treats the two risks differently. All states offer heating assistance, but fewer than half utilize LIHEAP funds for cooling assistance, creating a notable gap in addressing energy needs during warmer weather. There is limited allocation of LIHEAP funding towards residential cooling costs, even in regions with higher year-round temperatures where the demand for cooling assistance is substantial. Notably, the Southeast region, characterized by elevated energy insecurity, receives disproportionately low LIHEAP funding, accentuating disparities in the program's support across different regions. Additionally, the steady in- crease in year-round and summer crisis disbursements suggests that households are at a heightened risk of experiencing shut-offs, further underscoring the fact that LIHEAP is a critical source of support and that vulnerable households are in greater need of more substantial financial intervention.

Other factors impacting LIHEAP include the absence of recent and thorough evaluations assessing the program's effectiveness and impact. There is also a need for crisis prevention efforts and better coordination with energy efficiency and other safety net programs. To address energy insecurity, measures beyond LIHEAP include utility rate designs and discount programs such as the Percentage of Income Payment Plans,33 fixed percentage discounts, and arrearage forgiveness. Unique challenges in rural and Native American communities, where factors such as electricity availability and home energy efficiency present additional obstacles, underscore the importance of tailored solutions for addressing energy insecurity in these specific contexts.34

Eliminating energy insecurity requires a nuanced approach that not only recognizes LIHEAP's strengths but critically evaluates its limitations. LIHEAP remains a vital tool, but these signals of growing and unmet needs underscore the urgency for recalibration and modernization in the program's design to ensure it effectively serves the diverse and evolving energy needs of vulnerable households across the United States.


Emma Hand spoke next at the NARUC Panel. She stated that utility disconnections are one indicia of energy insecurity. "The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) uses the following measures to assess energy insecurity in the United States: reducing or forgoing basic necessities (e.g. medical care, food) to pay an energy bill, keeping the home at unhealthy or unsafe temperatures in order to reduce energy bills, or receiving a disconnection notice for bill nonpayment."35 "According to the EIA, thirty-four million households (27% of US households) reported at least one of these forms of energy insecurity in 2020."36 In January 2024, the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), representing the state directors of the LIHEAP, issued a press release reporting that the program served 7.1 million households in FY 23 with heating and cooling assistance, the highest number on record.37 NEADA also reported that utility arrear- ages also reached record levels in 2023 with 21.2 million households (16% -- "more than one out of six households") being behind on their energy bills.38

While no federal agency tracked arrearages in a comprehensive way at the national level, some states did and NEADA "estimated that nationwide arrearages for electricity and heating bills combined increased from $8.1 billion at the end of December 2019 to $16.1 billion as of August 2022,"39 and further "to $20.3 billion in December 2023."40 Under current laws, state and local utility regulators will have to address these arrearages, and cannot require the utilities to absorb the costs. The regulators' options include requiring the utilities to write off the debt and increase rates to all customers to cover the cost, collect the debt from the customers who owe it, or shift costs to the federal government through financial assistance programs.41

Energy burden, energy insecurity, and utility disconnections affect some racial and ethnic groups more than others.42 The share of Black households experiencing energy insecurity is about twice as high as that for White households (52% compared to 27% in 2020).43 Similarly, the share of Hispanic or Latino households experiencing energy insecurity is about twice as high as that for households that are not Hispanic or Latino (47% compared to 25% in 2020).44

The U.S. Congressional Research Service found that the available data on disconnections suggests that the scale of the issue is not precisely known, but mil- lions of Americans are disconnected each year, potentially up to 1% or so of households and that low-income households are at a higher risk for disconnections. Even more worrisome: Black and Hispanic households are disconnected from their utilities at a higher rate than non-Hispanic White households, even after accounting for levels of energy insecurity, suggesting an element of racial discrimination.45 A study conducted by the Indiana University O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Cleveland State University Maxine Goodman Levin School of Urban Affairs (IU/CSU Study) suggested that even when control- ling for key economic indicators, vulnerable households - specifically Black households, Hispanic households, and households with children under 5 years old - were more likely to have their electricity disconnected by their utility for non- payment.46

When customers fail to pay their utility bills in full and on time, they become at risk of a utility disconnection. There are many steps along the way to a disconnection and many programs in place to assist customers in avoiding disconnections. For most utilities, disconnecting the customer is the last resort - utilities benefit more from a customer being able to return to paying bills in full than they do from disconnecting a customer.

Federal law identifies preferred utility policies under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA), which encourages utilities: (1) not to dis- connect customers without giving "reasonable prior notice" and allowing customers "a reasonable opportunity to dispute the reasons for such termination"; (2) not disconnect customers who are unable to pay for electricity service during any period of time when termination of service would be "especially dangerous to health"; and (3) to have disconnection procedures that take into account "reason- able provisions for elderly and handicapped consumers."47 However, the details of the disconnection process are determined by state and local regulations. As a result, these processes vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, though there are many commonalities generally consistent with the principles laid out in PURPA. Typically, the utility contacts the customer, usually several times over a period of up to several months to attempt to receive payment. Unpaid amounts accrue during this time as an arrearage and the utilities may also assess late fees. Customers may be able to enter into a payment plan with the utility or they may qualify for financial assistance from a utility and/or state-administered program, which can help the customer avoid disconnection and pay their outstanding balances. However, if the customer continues to be unable to pay their bill, the utility may disconnect the customer. Generally, utilities will reconnect a customer after receiving payment of the outstanding balances and, in some cases, a reconnection fee.48

There are differences in disconnection policies, however, with states trying different means of protecting customers. Over forty states have statutory-based utility disconnection protections that aim to limit shut-offs during specific times of the year and/or for vulnerable populations. These may take the form of seasonal protections, temperature protections, and population-based protections. Some states require certification of the population-based protections (such as a medical condition),49 while some states limit the application of seasonal moratoria to certain customers, such as low-income customers,50 and so forth.

While the topic of utility disconnections has been around for as long as there have been utilities, and most jurisdictions have well-established practices in place, recent experiences and forces in play are increasing pressure on customers and creating a need for a re-examination of disconnection practices and customer assistance programs designed to prevent disconnection. During the COVID pandemic, for example, most jurisdictions recognized the severe economic distress that could occur for families disconnected from utility service during the pandemic. In many ways, this was a logical extension of provisions that exist in many jurisdictions prohibiting disconnections during extreme weather conditions. "In the early part of the pandemic, approximately 88% of residential electricity customers were protected temporarily from disconnection by state-issued disconnection moratoria or voluntary utility practices."51 Specifically, thirty-four states and the District of Columbia implemented moratoria to protect residents from utility disconnections.52 "Most states had lifted their pandemic-related moratoria by the end of 2021, [and] anecdotal evidence suggests that disconnections increased after the end of pandemic-related moratoria, at least in some parts of the country."53

Importantly, while some state moratoria prohibited the assessment of late fees and other charges related to nonpayment, other states did not, and in general, the moratoria were not bill forgiveness programs - although customers could not be disconnected, their outstanding balances continued to accrue over the months of nonpayment.54 This meant both that customers who were unable to pay their electric bills saw their outstanding balances continue to increase and that utilities had to provide electric service for extended periods of time without receiving payment from those customers. NARUC noted: 
There is a growing consensus among state PUCs [public utility commissions], the private utility sector, and key advocates that the blanket moratoria policies enacted early on in the pandemic response could have been more strategically implemented. Moratoria policies could be more exclusive to low- and moderate- income customers with caveats that customers in arrears need to work with their utility on repayment plans to qualify. Customers and utilities alike were unprepared for the massive arrearage burden stemming from blanket moratoria policies prohibiting disconnections.55

Nonpayment of bills and the resulting disconnection is not only a problem for the customer that is disconnected, it also creates problems for utilities, regulators and other utility customers. Nonpayment creates a cost for utilities unable to collect revenues for the services they provide, and regulators must develop policies to address nonpayment, arrearages, and disconnections regarding how those costs are distributed.56

The lack of data around disconnection protection policies makes it difficult to determine which policies "substantially reduce disconnections or provide households meaningful relief from" energy insecurity.57 It is difficult to obtain a comprehensive view of disconnection policies and practices and their success or lack of success. However, the IU/CSU Study suggests "that the utility disconnection moratoria that states implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic" did have a "substantial impact on disconnections"58 and also "decreased the likelihood that a household had to forego basic household expenses, such as food or medical care, to pay an energy bill and avoid the threat of disconnection."59

The plethora of different approaches taken by states to disconnections during the COVID-19 pandemic offer a somewhat unique opportunity to study the impact of utility disconnection policies. With energy prices continuing to rise with rising fuel costs and as America seeks to replace and improve upon aging infrastructure, accommodate new demand from electrification, and transition to cleaner energy sources,60 it is increasingly important to determine what best practices in utility disconnection policies can most effectively alleviate energy insecurity.


Mosby Perrow spoke next at the NARUC Panel.
My three children had seen snow before, but never enough in Houston to build a snowman or have a real snowball fight. The first day of Winter Storm Uri was magical in that sense. It reminded me of winters in the Northeast with packs of kids roaming the neighborhood streets and piles of soggy clothes beside the front door signaling hot-chocolate breaks. But the Northeast has insulation and winterized facilities. As temperatures plunged in Texas, my in-laws lost power, so I brought them over to spend the night with us. Then I lost power, too. We huddled under blankets around a natural gas fireplace talking by candlelight, and it felt like an adventure. But after thirty-six hours of no power, no heat, no running water, and temperatures in single digits, the adventure turned critical. Others had it worse.

By the time Texas thawed, over 240 people had died from the storm,61 over 9.9 million people went without electricity,62 and the country lost between $195 to $295 billion in damages.63 There was ultimately little that was magical about Winter Storm Uri. Almost immediately, natural gas advocates pointed to wind turbines in West Texas, and wind energy advocates pointed to shut-in wells and the loss of dispatchable generation. The conversation devolved from there with about as much light as the storm's darkest and coldest night.

As noted above, Energy Insecurity is the inability to obtain, loss, or threatened loss of energy required for our modern lives and has physical, economic, and coping dimensions.64 It can be acute, as what happened during Winter Storm Uri, and it can be chronic, as is the case for a quarter to one-third of US households, or more than thirty-three million households.65 According to national data analyzed by Dr. Diana Hernandez, almost "twenty-five million households reduced or went without food or medicine to pay for energy."66 "That is twice the number of those having received a disconnection notice and four times as many as lacked working heating or cooling equipment," Dr. Hernandez reported.67

The Energy Bar Association celebrated its 75th Anniversary in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the celebration that had been planned for the occasion was converted into a call to action. The members of the EBA Board wanted to do something important to mark the occasion. A "Tiger Team" was assembled, tapping the broad diversity of EBA's membership and its deep expertise in energy regulation and policy. Winter Storm Uri crystallized the challenge that the Tiger Team narrowed on. As an organization devoted to advancing the professional excellence, facilitating robust dialogue and debate, and growing an inclusive community that connects and engages a vast and diverse community,68, the challenge of addressing Energy Insecurity in the wake of a pandemic, a devastating winter storm, and a call to action triggered by seventy-five CGEP years of work in energy policy and regulation seemed worthy, important, and achievable.

EBA quickly found fellow travelers familiar with these issues and looking to collaborate. Dr. Hernandez introduced members of the Tiger Team to others at Columbia University initiating a conversation with representatives from the Sabin Center and the School of International and Public Affairs' Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP). The Energy Insecurity Initiative included attorneys and energy professionals from large and small law firms, a myriad of energy trade associations, organizations involved in public power and investor-owned utilities, federal regulators, those who regulated energy for states, and many others. Ultimately, EBA, the Sabin Center, the Mailman School of Public Health, and CGEP entered into an Memorandum of Understanding with the stated objectives to im- prove uptake of existing programs that can reduce Energy Insecurity in the United States and Canada, to demonstrate the importance of energy and the crisis of Energy Insecurity, to diagnose the causes of Energy Insecurity and to identify policy frameworks that can address the obstacles identified, to build stronger awareness around a just and equitable energy transition, and to improve public understanding of the issues underlying Energy Insecurity.

The Energy Insecurity Initiative was designed to underscore and support EBA's mission to advance the professional excellence of those engaged in energy law, regulation and policy through professional education, exploration of diverse viewpoints, and building connections within the energy community. Since initiating the Energy Insecurity Initiative, the EBA has featured Energy Insecurity at several national meetings, hosting panels to highlight issues within the broader Energy Insecurity challenge and to discuss potential solutions. The Energy Exchange podcast produced a deep dive into the elements of Energy Insecurity during a long-form conversation with Dr. Hernandez. The Texas Chapter of the Energy Bar Association started the Annual Texas Symposium with the inaugural meeting focused on Winter Storm Uri that provided an evidenced-based, constructive conversation about what went wrong and how to prevent such acute episodes of Energy Insecurity in the future.

Columbia University, for its part, has provided an initial seed investment through the use of various facilities and in-kind support from Sabin Center Fellows that has helped launch and sustain the initiative through leadership from its senior members and support from sister institutions. In 2023, the Energy Insecurity Initiative kicked off the first phase of research conducted by volunteers from across the U.S. and Canada. The Initiative sought to leverage the EBA's expertise in energy regulations, law, and policy, and Columbia's world class research and academic resources. This round of research is focused on four topic areas: (1) Utility Disconnections and Shutoffs; (2) Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Programs and Other Low-Income Relief; (3) Energy Efficiency and Weatherization; and (4) Access to Clean Energy and Electrification. The response from volunteers has been robust, vindicating the Board's decision to start down this road many years ago.

Despite the efforts to date from volunteers and leaders who are members of the Energy Bar Association, the Energy Insecurity Initiative is really just at its beginning stages and much of the exciting and impactful work is yet to be done.


Bob Fleishman spoke last at the NARUC Panel.
He began by declaring, "I believe reducing energy insecurity in the United States in Canada is a moral imperative." But what is a moral imperative?

In pondering this question, I was drawn to the teachings of great leaders: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi. I came across the following inspiring Albert Einstein statement about Gandhi: "Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked on this earth." 69

That compelled me to focus intensely on Gandhi for help answering the question. Among the vital messages of Gandhi's leadership were: even one person can make a difference; strength comes not from physical capacity but from an indomitable will; given a just cause, nonviolence and capacity for self-suffering, and fearlessness, victory is certain; leadership by example is the one most effective. To Gandhi the spirit of service and sacrifice was the key to leadership. For the spirit of service to materialize we must lay stress on our responsibilities and duties and not on rights. "The commitment to service, however demands a strong sense of conscience (moral imperative), courage (fearlessness, bravery, initiative), and character (integrity)."70

What I draw from this is that a strong sense of conscience - doing the right thing - is the essence of a moral imperative.

I turn seventy next month and have spent more than forty years in the energy industry in government, with an energy company/utility, as a lobbyist in Congress and Maryland, and at three Big Law firms. I also have served EBA in multiple capacities and as president of two community-based non-profit organizations. I've been reflecting lately on lessons learned, what's really important (and is not), and what how I should spend my time in the autumn of my life.

Besides for his leadership on the Energy Insecurity Initiative, Mosby Perrow developed the terrific idea of doing podcasts for EBA in which he interviewed energy industry leaders as part of "Energy Exchange" series. I was the first person he interviewed - kind of a guinea pig. Mosby asked me, among other things, "what do you know to be true?" 71

Let me tell you how I would answer that question if asked today.
• The energy transition is in full swing; it will be neither quick nor easy.72 If you do not believe me, read The State of the Transition - just published by Bill Gates - which states that we are in the beginning stages of a major "Clean Industrial Revolution."73
• Energy, environmental, and climate issues now, and for the foreseeable future, are inextricably intertwined.
• Energy insecurity is real, it exists in the U.S., Canada and else- where, and it is a significant problem.
• Steps must be taken to ensure the energy transition progresses in a just and equitable fashion.
• Reducing energy insecurity in the U.S. and Canada is a moral imperative, and we all have a role to play in addressing this moral imperative.

Major and interrelated trends in the U.S. and Canada are the movement to- ward decarbonization, access to cleaner forms of energy, and electrification. We will research the impact of these trends and related transitional developments on low-income households and communities as they relate to buildings and transportation. We don't have the answers yet; we're just in the beginning stages.

One set of issues to research is that "low-income households have been slower to adopt clean energy because they often lack sufficient savings or have low credit scores, which can impede their ability to finance projects."74 With respect to buildings, we will focus on solar panels, community solar, net metering, demand response, distributed energy resources, microgrids, virtual net metering, smart technologies and metering, electric natural gas, appliances, and credit scores. In the transportation sector, we will focus on electric vehicles and charging stations.

Multifaceted and multidimensional problems require attention by a range of stakeholders. Because energy insecurity is a multifaceted problem with multiple dimensions, reducing it will require coordinated and extensive action by many stakeholders, including governments, regulators, companies, community organizations, academia, law firms, market participants, and others. 

Reducing energy insecurity is a moral imperative. We need your help. Please join us in addressing this issue.


* Robert Fleishman is a retired partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, President of Energy Resolve LLC, and a Past President of the Energy Bar Association. Emma Hand is a founding partner and leader of Dentons' award- winning Energy Practice, Co-chair of the Dentons Global Energy Sector for the US Region, and a Past President of the Energy Bar Association. Mosby Perrow is a partner at Van Ness Feldman where he serves energy companies on regulatory and transactional matters, and a Past President of the Energy Bar Association. Diana Hernandez, PhD is a tenured professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health and the co- Director of the Energy Opportunity Lab at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. Any views expressed in this essay are those only of the individual authors. They do not represent the views of: any of the authors' law firms, companies, organizations, or other employers; any of the authors' clients; the Energy Bar Association; or the Energy Insecurity Initiative.

1. Diana Hernandez, Understanding ‘Energy Insecurity’ and Why it Matters to Health, 167 SOC. SCI. & MED. 1-10, (Oct. 2016); Diana Hernandez, Health Policy Brief: Energy Insecurity and Health, HEALTH AFFS. (Jun. 29, 2023), hardship#:-:text=As%20Hernandez%20explains%2C%20the%20three,
2. Andrea Nishi et al., Energy Insecurity Mitigation: The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Other Low-Income Relief Programs in the U.S., CTR. ON GLOB. ENERGY POL'Y (Nov. 15, 2023),
1.pdf. With the CGEP's permission, the CGEP LIHEAP report is included as an appendix to this essay.
3. Diana Hernandez & Jennifer Laird, Surviving a Shut-off: US Households at Greatest Risk of Utility Disconnections and How They Cope, AM. BEHAV. SCI. (2022).
4. Diana Hernandez, Understanding ‘Energy Insecurity’ and Why it Matters to Health, NAT'L LIBR. MED. (2016),
5. Id.
6. There are a myriad of different dimensions relating to energy issues that tend to overlap with one another. Concepts like "energy poverty," "energy access," "energy equity," and "energy burden" are separate constructs from energy insecurity and operate in different contexts. See Ann M. Eisenberg & Elizabeth Kronk Warner, The Precipice of Justice: Equity, Energy, and the Environment in Indian Country and Rural Communities, 42 ENERGY L.J. 282, 290 (2021); see also Diana Hernandez et al., Basing “Energy Justice” on Clear Terms: Assessing Key Terminology in Pursuit of Energy Justice, 15 ENV'T JUST., 127 (2022).
7. Maricopa County, AZ, Addressing Energy Insecurity Through Cross-Sector Collaboration, MARICOPA.GOV, rity%20is%20an%20issue,a%20prerequisite%20for%20good%20health (last accessed Mar. 24, 2024).
8. Sanya Carley, Energy Insecurity During the Rime of COVID, KLEINMAN CTR. FOR ENERGY POL'Y (Apr. 5, 2023), covid/.
9. Ashley J. Lawson & Claire Mills, Electric Utility Disconnections, CONG. RSCH. SERV. 2 (Jan.31,2023),
%20are%20una- ble%20to,utility%20may%20disconnect%20the%20customer.
10. Diana Hernandez, Energy Insecurity and Health: America’s Hidden Hardship, HEALTH AFFS. (Jun. 29, 2023),
11. Emily Schmidt, Feeling the Heat: Energy Insecurity in the Nation’s Hottest States, APM RSCH. LAB (May 5, 2022), ing%20to%20the%20ACEEE%2C%20residents,have%20a%20high%20energy%20burden.
12. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9.
14. Id.
15. Id.
17. Id.
18. NAT'L ASSOC. OF REGUL. UTIL. COMM'RS, (last visited Mar. 24, 2024).
19. William McCurry, State Energy Justice Roundtable Series: Customer Affordability and Arrearages, NAT'L ASSOC. OF REGUL. UTIL. COMM'RS 4 (2023), 37A81B4AFEF7.
22. Sonal Jessel et al., Energy, Poverty, and Health in Climate Change: A Comprehensive Review of an Emerging Literature, 7 FRONTIERS IN PUB. HEALTH 357, 2 (2019).
23. Hernandez, supra note 4, at 5-6.
24. 4, 6.
25. Jessel et al., supra note 22, at 8.
26. Id.
27. Maggie Kelley Riggins, What is energy insecurity versus energy burden?, SE. ENERGY EFFICIENCY ALL. (Mar. 15, 2021),
28. Diana Hernandez, Energy Insecurity And Health: America’s Hidden Hardship, HEALTH AFFS. (June 29, 2023),
29. Nishi et al., supra note 2.
30. Id.
31. Mark J. Kaiser & Allan G. Pulsipher, Science and politics: The 1981 and 1984 LIHEAP distribution formulas, 40 SOCIO-ECONOMIC PLANNING SCIENCE 15 (2006); for an expanded 1984 explanation, see Nishi et al., supra note 2.
32. Miranda Simes et al., Vigilant conservation: How energy insecure households navigate cumulative and administrative burdens, 101 ENERGY RSCH. & SOC. SCI. 103092, 6 (2023).
33. Nishi et al., supra note 2.
34. Emily Wild, Lighting Up Navajo Nation, NATIVE NEWS ONLINE, ing-up-navajo-nation (last visited Apr. 22, 2024).
35. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9, at 2.
36. Id. (citing U.S. ENERGY INFO. ADMIN., TODAY IN ENERGY (Apr. 11, 2022), dayinenergy/detail.php?id=51979 ("In 2020, 27% of US Households Had Difficulty Meeting Their Energy Needs.")).
37. Press Release, Mark Wolfe, States Call for Cong. to Restore Funding for LIHEAP About 1.4 Million Households Could be Cut from the Program, Nat'l Energy Assistance Dir. Ass'n (Jan. 23, 2024),
38. Id. at 3.
39. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9, at 6-7 (citing Mark Wolfe, Families Drowning in Utility Debt – Fami- lies Owe More than $16 Billion, NAT'L ENERGY ASSISTANCE DIR. ASS'N 1 (Nov. 7, 2022), content/uploads/2022/11/20millionbehindPR.pdf.).
40. Nat'l Energy Assistance Dir. Ass'n, supra note 37, at 3.
41. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9, at 6-7 (citing Herman K. Trabish, Utility Customers Owe Up to $40B in COVID-19 Debt, But Who Will Pay It?, UTIL. DIVE 7-8 (Dec. 3, 2020), tomers-owe-billions-in-covid-debt-to-their-utilities-and-somebody-has-to/589525/.).
42. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9, at 10.
43. Id. In previous years, 11.3% of Black households at or below 150% of the federal poverty level were disconnected, compared to 5.5% of White households at or below the same level. Mark Franklin, Lights Out in the Cold: Reforming Utility Shut-Off Policies as If Human Rights Matter, NAT'L ASS'N FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE, 14 (Mar. 2017).
44. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9, at 10.
45. Id. at 11.
46. Memmott et al., Utility disconnections protections and the incidence of energy insecurity in the United States, iSCIENCE, 6 (Mar. 17, 2023),
47. 16 U.S.C. § 2625(g) (2005).
48. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9, at 4.
49. Memmott et al., supra note 46, at 8.
50. Id. at 1.
51. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9, at 1, 5.
52. Memmott et al., supra note 46, at 1.
53. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9, at 5 (citing Richard J. Campbell & Ashley J. Lawson, COVID-19 Elec- tric Disconnections, CONG. RSCH. SERV., 5 (June 9, 2020); Will Wade & Mark Chediak, ‘Tsunami of Shutoffs’ Looms With 1 in 6 Late on US Energy Bills, BLOOMBERG L. (Aug. 23, 2022), vironment-and-energy/tsunami-of-shutoffs-looms-with-1-in-6-late-on-us-energy-bills-1; Jake Zuckerman, AEP Cut 164,000 Ohioan’s Power for Nonpayment Last Year, More Than Any Other Utility, OHIO CAP. J. 1 (July 7, 2022), more-than-any-other-utility/; Hannah LaClaire, As energy prices rise, thousands of Mainers at risk of losing power, PORTLAND PRESS HERALD 1 (May 22, 2022), rise-thousands-of-mainers-at-risk-of-losing-power/; Alicia Inez Guzman & Liciana Perez Uribe Guinassi, The Other Energy Crisis, SEARCHLIGHT N.M. 6 (Mar. 30, 2022),
54. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9, at 6.
55. William McCurry, Lessons Learned from the Ongoing Response to the COVID-19 Crisis, NAT'L ASS'N REG. UTIL. COMM'RS 20 (Oct. 2021), E08F3EAF718C.
56. Lawson & Mills, supra note 9, at 15.
57. Memmott, et. al., supra note 46, at 1.
58. Id. at 8.
59. Id. at 9.
ADJUSTING FOR INFLATION (May 31, 2023),; Adam A. Millsap, High Elec. Prices Will Go Even Higher Unless We Change Course, FORBES (Mar. 9, 2023), change-course/?sh=42bbb53916a8; Irina Ivanova, Inflation Is Falling, But Not Your Elec. Bill. Here’s Why, CBS NEWS (May 30, 2023),
61. Patrick Svitek, Texas Puts Final Estimate of Winter Storm Death Toll at 246, TEX. TRIBUNE (Jan. 2, 2022),
62. Joshua W. Busby et al., Cascading Risks: Understanding the 2021 Winter Blackout in Texas, ENERGY RSCH. & SOC. SCI. 1 (June 2, 2021),
63. Irina Ivanova, Texas Winter Storm Costs Could Top $200 Billion – More Than Hurricanes Harvey and Ike, CBS NEWS (Feb. 25, 2021),
64. Diana Hernandez, Energy Insecurity and Health: America’s Hidden Hardship, HEALTH AFFS. (June 29, 2023),
65. Id.
66. Diana Hernandez et al., Energy Insecurity in the United States, CTR. ON GLOBAL ENERGY POL'Y AT COLUMBIA (Oct. 2023), states/.
67. Hernandez, supra note 64.
68. EBA, EBA MISSION AND CORE VALUES, (last visited Apr. 22, 2024).
69. ALICE CALAPRICE, THE ULTIMATE QUOTABLE EINSTEIN 124 (Princeton Univ. Press, 2011) (citing
Statement on the occasion of Gandhi's seventy-fifth birthday, 1939, In Einstein on Humanism, 94 (2000). Here is Einstein's full statement: Gandhi is a "leader of his people, unsupported by any outward authority a politician whose success rests not upon craft or the mastery of technical devices, but simply on the convincing power of his personality; a victorious fighter who always scorned the use of force, a man of wisdom and humility, armed with resolve and inflexible consistency, who has devoted all his strength to the uplifting of his people and the betterment of their lot; a man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus at all times risen superior. Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked on this earth." Id. at 123-24.
70. Y.P. Anand, Mahatma Gandhi’s Leadership - Moral & Spiritual Foundations, https://www.mkgan- (last visited Mar. 31, 2024). .
71. The Energy Exchange Podcast, Season 1, Episode 1: Bob Fleishman, Partner Kirkland & Ellis, Former Gen. Couns. Balt. Gas and Elec., Former Editor-in-Chief of Energy L.J., Past President of EBA, ENERGY BAR ASS'N (March 18, 2021),
72. McKinsey puts it this way: "The energy transition is well underway, but how it will unfold in the decades ahead is difficult to predict. Decision makers in government and business face a challenging time planning for a future energy mix that remains unclear." MCKINSEY & CO., GLOBAL ENERGY PERSPECTIVE 2023 - EXECUTIVE SUMMARY (Nov. 21, 2023), energy-perspective-2023.
73. Bill Gates, Breakthrough Energy Founder Bill Gates on the State of the Energy Transition, BREAKTHROUGH ENERGY (Nov. 13, 2023),
74. Madeleine Ngo & Ivan Penn, As Util. Bills Rise, Low-Income Americans Struggle for Access to Clean Energy, N.Y. TIMES (Jan. 11, 2024), ergy.html.