Housing and energy experts say building electrification can be a transformative force, but policies must prioritize environmental and social justice communities 

Contact: Sage Welch, Principal at Sunstone Strategies, sage@sunstonestrategies.org, 615.715.6714

OAKLAND, CALIF. – As a wave of local governments move to kickstart a new era of cleaner, healthier all-electric homes and buildings, Equitable Building Electrification: A Framework for Powering Resilient Communities, produced in partnership between The Greenlining Institute and California’s Energy Efficiency for All coalition, highlights the benefits the move away from gas in buildings can have for low-income residents as long as policies are designed with communities at their center. 

More than 50 California cities have passed or are considering measures to accelerate all-electric buildings – moves that have been attacked by the gas industry on a number of fronts, including how they may impact low-income Californians. However, this new resource shows that through community-led, intentional policymaking, building electrification can actually help close the clean energy gap and lead to greater affordability for working families in California by putting environmental and social justice communities at the front of the line to access healthier, fossil fuel-free homes and high-quality local jobs that may come from greening the building sector.  

“The gas industry is working overtime to stoke fear around building electrification, and is specifically targeting low-income residents and communities of color with this message,” said Carmelita Miller, an author of the report and legal counsel for The Greenlining Institute. “We’re here to say that getting off of gas will have important benefits for these communities if policies are rolled out with a mission to improve the health and resilience of environmental and social justice communities.”

Data from Energy and Environmental Consulting (E3) shows gas rates rising steeply in California in coming years, as the cost to safely maintain the aging gas system rises following two major disasters and the demand for gas dries up as California moves forward with its clean electricity and climate targets. Those left on gas in coming decades could be looking at massive bill increases. 

“As gas costs increase and we learn more about the detrimental health and climate impacts of burning gas in our homes, we expect many Californians who can afford to will choose to get off gas on their own,” noted Isaac Sevier, co-author of the report and coordinator of California’s Energy Efficiency for All coalition. “Policies and support must focus on empowering entire communities who cannot afford new appliances or new homes to access all-electric housing – which is more affordable and will have long-term health benefits.” 

The framework notes that African Americans, Native Americans, immigrant communities of color, low-income communities, and others have long suffered systemic exclusion from housing and job opportunities and it urges electrification policies to address this inequity as the state seeks to transform its building stock.

“There’s no room for polluting gas in California’s future. We also can’t afford another market-based, trickle down clean energy initiative that doesn’t reach low-income people,” said Mad Stano, program director for the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “This framework explains how we can design building electrification policies with community resiliency at their core to help working families and communities of color be first in line to receive benefits and continue leading on climate solutions.”

 The framework offers five steps on how equitable electrification can be implemented: 

  • Assess community needs.
  • Establish community-led decision-making.
  • Develop metrics and a plan for tracking.
  • Ensure funding and program leveraging.
  • Improve outcomes.

“This framework makes it clear that through strategic, targeted and sufficient investment, we can make the transition to a clean energy future equitable,” said David Hochschild, chair of the California Energy Commission. “This is exactly the kind of direction that California agencies and policymakers need as we explore how to cost-effectively reduce emissions from our buildings,  improve public health and increase the quality of life for all Californians – especially those struggling with affordability.”

The framework identifies building electrification as a potential boon for high-quality jobs and careers, including a just transition plan for those who currently depend on gas and other fossil fuels for their livelihood. The inherently local nature of work in the built environment means that, with the right policies and programs, electrification can produce strong careers in communities all across the state. In addition to ensuring that fossil fuel workers have access to good jobs, equitable electrification policies should include workforce development programs that create pathways for people with barriers to employment, so that they too can access good quality electrification jobs.  

“Ultimately, building electrification policies must be designed to improve people’s everyday lives,” said Sevier. “If we focus on people-centered policies, electrification can provide solutions to existing household problems – by providing jobs that can’t be exported, lowering bills, improving health, and making homes more comfortable. Community-led planning initiatives that put local needs at the center will be key.”

 San Joaquin Valley pilot serves as model

The framework emphasizes the importance of community-driven decision making in policy, noting  that community members are the experts on what challenges they face, and how policy can help address them.

The report holds up the Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) San Joaquin Valley Disadvantaged Communities Pilot Project as an example of what community-driven policymaking means in practice. The program allowed communities that have never had access to gas infrastructure to work in partnership with an on-the-ground team to identify alternatives that would best suit residents, with a deep focus on long-term engagement and outreach.

Through a process that put community needs center stage, nine host communities were offered a variety of options to move from wood or propane as a heating and cooking source – to electric appliances powered by clean energy – all driven by community-led choices ensuring the result would benefit their daily lives.

“With building electrification policies being in their nascent, developmental phase, local and statewide decisionmakers and advocates have the opportunity to design these policies in a manner that will lift up communities in California that have previously been left behind,” added Miller. “That’s what was achieved in the San Joaquin Valley, and that’s what we want to replicate around the state.” 

Buildings are responsible for more than a quarter of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. To date 10 cities have passed local measures that incentivize all-electric new construction or place restrictions on gas in new buildings. The PUC has undertaken a proceeding to implement SB 1477, which creates incentives for clean heating technologies, and is looking at pathways to cut pollution from buildings using electrification. Under AB 3232, the California Energy Commission is currently studying the most cost-effective pathways to cut pollution from buildings by 40 percent by 2030.

The framework can be found on our website: http://bit.ly/ElectrifyCaNow

ABOUT THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE:

Founded in 1993, The Greenlining Institute envisions a nation where communities of color thrive and race is never a barrier to economic opportunity. Because people of color will be the majority of our population by 2044, America will prosper only if communities of color prosper. The Greenlining Institute advances economic opportunity and empowerment for people of color through advocacy, community and coalition building, research, and leadership development.

ABOUT EEFA:

California’s Energy Efficiency for All coalition is committed to an equitable clean energy future and works to advance healthy, affordable energy solutions for underserved renters at the state, regional, and city levels, with a key focus on expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy investments in frontline communities. To learn more about our state and national partnerships, visit energyefficiencyforall.org/states/california/

 

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THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE
A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute
www.greenlining.org
@Greenlining