Western Energy Transition Addresses Environmental, Social Justice Concerns

California Energy Markets

“CCAs are not-for-profit, community-based organizations and are structured to ensure the community has a voice in planning and decision making,” the California Community Choice Association said in an emailed response to the report. Environmental justice is an area where California’s community choice energy programs strive to have a positive impact, the organization said. “CCAs can and should be a model for energy equity and energy democracy.”

Jenna Famular, spokesperson for California’s first CCA, MCE of San Rafael, said in an email to California Energy Markets that MCE’s goal is “to integrate and center equity” across its work. The CCA serves communities in four California counties and has a diversity, equity and inclusion team that meets regularly to discuss staff education and historic inequities in its communities.

A Community Power Coalition brings together representatives from community organizations in MCE’s service area to further inform direction on these topics. Local chapters of Communities for a Better Environment and the Asian-Pacific Environmental Network, both of which are core members of CEJA, are part of the coalition, Famular said. CalCCA’s own equity committee convenes regularly to share best practices and collaborate on new initiatives while providing CCAs flexibility to address equity issues in their local communities, she added.

California’s CCAs have expanded renewable resources across the state by more than 6 GW since 2017 while also providing workforce opportunities, public electric-vehicle charging infrastructure and other benefits to their communities, according to CalCCA’s Fall 2020 report. San Jose Clean Energy recently signed a power-purchase agreement for 225 MW of wind power from one of several New Mexico projects that will help restore tax revenue lost from the closure of fossil fuel generation resources and reduced oil and natural gas production (see related story).

CCAs are shifting the narrative on clean power to one of inclusion, MCE said. Cost declines and programs that help members afford home battery storage, rooftop solar and EVs extend those options to lower-income residents who have historically been priced out of those markets. Meanwhile, traditional net-metering policies face increasing criticism of being reverse subsidies as lower-income households purchase utility power generated from those resources on higher-income homes. This phenomenon was discussed in a recent study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other researchers (see CEM No. 1618).

East Bay Community Energy’s Resilient Home program, launched in July, offers pre-negotiated pricing on solar-plus-storage systems, which not only reduce utility bills and emissions but also offer backup during grid outages, including public-safety power shut-offs. After installation, Sunrun pays EBCE’s Resilient Home customers an additional $1,250 for agreeing to share stored energy with the CCA during demand spikes, further reducing emissions and lowering costs.

CCAs have encouraged registration in the California Public Utilities Commission’s discount programs for low-income customers. MCE also opted into the CPUC’s recently created arrearage-management program that will allow debt forgiveness for customers who have fallen behind on gas and electric bills as they get back on track beginning in 2021, Famular said (see CEM No. 1594). MCE would welcome legislation allowing CCAs to be administrators for such programs, as suggested in the CEJA report, and is seeking that authority now for the Energy Savings Assistance program, which funds its Low Income Families and Tenants pilot program, she added.

As the Western energy landscape shifts, Famular said CCAs and the communities they serve must be involved in addressing equity issues. “It is vital that equity concerns are not addressed in a one-size-fits-all approach,” she said.

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