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How might existing utilities' programs (e.g., energy efficiency, decarbonization, net zero, ) kick-start collaborations with air agencies, utilities' customers, and EJ communities?

Shirley Rivera's picture
Principal Consultant Resource Catalysts (R|CAT)

Founder of Resource Catalysts (R|CAT). I put environmental communications in context. I connect seemingly disparate perspectives among business, government, and community for meaningful...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Mar 16, 2021
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Using an example where California has a state mandate to reduce pollutant burden via air quality agencies directly engaging with environmental justice (EJ) communities, how might existing utilities' programs (e.g., energy efficiency, decarbonization, net zero, ) kick-start collaborations with air agencies, utilities' customers, and EJ communities - thus providing collateral benefits?

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Establishing equilibrium in a multi-actor (utilities, customers, policy-makers) setting, in which interests conflict with each other, can be modelled using multi-objective decision-making frameworks that benefit all parties and the environment.

For example, there are comprehensive KPI-driven (emissions, operational cost, SAIDI, SAIFI, etc.) systemic approaches (quantitative models) that design and plan system assets (both traditional and renewable energy generation units in terms of years) to provide the best proportion of energy generation from different sources (in terms of operational days) so that secure, economically feasible, high-quality and environmental sustainable energy is supplied. 

These comprehensive frameworks can easily be implemented into advanced decision-making algorithms that incorporate large sets of data, resulting in optimal planning horizon to meet desired KPIs.

Hi Shirley: I actually believe that there is hardly a link between agency activity / utility activity today and environmental justice.  The legislature can make all kinds of policies and pass all kinds of legislation to try and address environmental justice issues, and can talk until the sun goes down, but the actual impact on and benefit for poor families is negligible. One other point to note, for poor families the energy bill is a major share of their monthly budget.  As a fixed cost, it is highly regressive.  The other major issue is the placement of polluting energy facilities and polluting industry in proximity to low income communities. In that case, zoning and active environmental enforcement can help to remediate the issue but still does not make up for historic problems created by pollution.

I believe that the way to address environmental justice when it comes to energy issues is to actually address the issue home by home and apartment by apartment.  Poor family homes need to be weatherized and made as energy efficient as possible. Poor family homes need to be equipped with renewable energy generating technology and energy storage.  Focused utility and public expenditure needs to occur as soon as possible to address the issue.

With multiple trillions currently being considered for expenditure to address long neglected infrastructure issues, one can hope that consideration will be given to the creation of a WPA-type program to create thousands of jobs by weatherizing the homes / apartment buildings in poor communities across the United States, installing energy efficient appliances and technology, and adding renewable energy generating capability, and energy storage home by home and apartment by apartment. The result would be a significant reduction in the percentage of income that poor households pay for energy. 

A program of this type would still not fully address the environmental justice issues in the poor communities but it would be a darned good start.

Hope this helps your thinking.

Larry Eisenberg

 

California began addressing environmental justice relative to air quality many years ago and still has progress to make. Carbon emissions from transportation are the largest contribution impacting environmental justice communities, which is why transportation electrification is so important. As clean energy programs expand in California and the rest of the country, I believe environmental justice communities can benefit most from the expansion of available new jobs.

Existing utility programs are nibbling at the edges.  Last summer’s rolling blackouts in California and this winter’s power outages in Texas should be recognized as leading edge indicators of the need for change.  Electric utilities need to invest in dynamic load control programs that will maximize the benefits of small scale renewable energy sources and eliminate the need to build new electric energy generating facilities for a decade or more.

Most days, the most efficient generating plants are providing electric energy to the electric grid.  When peak load days occur, less efficient generating plants that contribute significantly more to climate change and air quality degradation are brought on line.  The time has come for electric utilities to create programs that dynamically reduce load on peak load days.

Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Mar 25, 2021

-Utilities main concern is selling electricity profitably. The two cases of California and Texas were duo to suddenly and unexpected shortage of supply. Usually , utilities have programs to decrease the peak loads. 

- I think that the needed solution is wide-spreading  the Micro Grids concept. This will grant more and effective load control to make use of all renewable generation in microgrid's domain , as well as avoiding the long transmission lines extended to deliver generation to  the load centers.

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