by Pearl Eva Walker —
Energy is a basic necessity of daily life, whether we are flipping on a switch or plugging into a socket. While we as customers can’t shop around for who we buy energy from, Memphis’ power company, Memphis Light, Gas & Water (MLGW), is now deciding whether or not it will find a new energy provider, which could save Memphis hundreds of millions of dollars every year. This switch could lead to a better life for all Memphians and could help our community recover from the extraordinarily hard times brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.
I work with the Memphis Has the Power Campaign – a campaign to ensure Memphians have affordable, equitable, and clean energy to power their lives and be successful. Together, with community organizations and leaders, we are working to achieve energy justice and create a cleaner, more prosperous Memphis.
My time as an energy equity advocate has shown me how energy is tied to so many areas of our lives, like public health and transportation. After witnessing Memphis communities, especially Black and Brown, struggle with unaffordable energy, high electric bills, coal ash pollution, and lack of access to safe and affordable clean energy options like solar, I have worked to mobilize concerned citizens and to elevate their awareness, understanding, and conversation around the dangers of climate change and the importance of clean energy.
My advocacy provided me with the opportunity to be a part of Memphis’ first Energy Justice Conference, hosted by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) in 2017. In 2018, I addressed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board regarding a fixed fee hike in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. I also traveled to Atlanta that year for the Just Energy Summit at Morehouse College sponsored by the Partnership for Southern Equity and in 2019, I attended the Climate Strike at our nation’s capital.
My concerns and passion for helping my fellow Memphians and ensuring they have a just energy future led me to run for Memphis City Council in 2019. While on the campaign trail, I participated in the Energy Democracy Tour stop in Memphis. The event, hosted by Appalachian Voices, SACE, and others, provided opportunities for community members to learn more about MLGW, TVA, and how our energy system works.
Sadly, I was the only candidate present, and there were no elected officials in attendance. Yet now more than ever, Memphis’ elected officials must take action to help Memphians with their energy needs.
Memphians suffer from one of the highest energy burdens in America. Energy burden is the percent of household income a household pays in energy costs. The national average is around 3 percent – yet in Memphis, many families with lower incomes pay upwards of 25 percent. In fact, Memphis has the most unaffordable energy of any major city in the nation. This poverty impedes Memphians daily and is exacerbated by volatility such as what we are experiencing today from COVID-19, which has rendered so many of us unable to work and feeling the most severe brunt of economic hardships.
Those of us who had already been paying high portions of our monthly income for energy even before the coronavirus swept through our city are especially vulnerable to hardships and uncertainties, and most in need of relief through action by our elected officials.
In recent months, MLGW has been examining the possibility of breaking free from its current energy supplier, TVA, who MLGW pays about a billion dollars per year to for energy, and getting less expensive energy from a new supplier. MLGW will be releasing a report on its findings later this month, however we already know from multiple previous studies that such a switch would save hundreds of millions of dollars per year for Memphis.
Herman Morris, former president of MLGW, recently said in a news story that TVA’s wholesale power costs are roughly 7.5-8 cents/kWh while an alternate supplier of energy would charge just 4-4.5 cents/ kWh. During these unprecedented times brought on by COVID-19, these savings could also help lessen the economic blow for all Memphians.
We can effect positive changes for Memphis by pressing decision-makers to take swift and aggressive action that will provide access to good-paying clean energy jobs and bring more affordable and cleaner energy to Memphis.
Memphians, please sign the petition urging our community leaders to do what is right for our city and help chart an equitable and clean energy future for all. Visit MemphisHasThePower.org and take action today.
“The time is always right to do what is right,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.