Assembly Bill 961, the Community Energy Benefits Act is being championed by Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes. If enacted into law, AB 961 would remove one of the key policy barriers reducing beneficial clean energy investments in low-income communities of color.

California leads the nation on clean energy technological innovation and climate policy, but the benefits of these efforts often don’t reach low-income communities of color. That’s in part because of a fatal flaw in how we measure the benefits that clean energy programs can bring to environmental justice communities – the low-income neighborhoods that get stuck with the worst pollution.

California’s Clean Energy Challenge

Low-income communities of color experience three key burdens from our energy system: disproportionate burdens from energy pollution with more dirty facilities closer to where they live, work and play; high energy burdens, paying nearly three times the percentage of their income on energy bills than their more affluent counterparts, forcing families to choose between paying to keep the lights on or for food and medicine; and significant barriers to participating in and benefiting from the state’s incredible suite of clean energy programs. As we move toward cleaner energy, we must center and follow the leadership of the environmental justice communities most impacted by our dirty energy status quo.

The CPUC must consider a clean energy project’s ability to cut pollution, lower energy bills, improve fire safety, and support workforce development when authorizing or evaluating the impact of clean energy investment decisions. Californians needs officials to consider the real-world needs of environmental justice communities.

Greenlining, our partners, and equity leader Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes are working to make sure low-income communities of color experience greater benefits with Assembly Bill 961 – the Community Energy Benefits Act. AB 961 will remove one of the key policy barriers reducing beneficial clean energy investments in low-income communities of color.

Right now, when the California Public Utilities Commission evaluates the impact of clean energy programs, it looks only at directly energy-related benefits. That means it doesn’t meaningfully consider things like reduced pollution, improved community health, or the jobs created by clean energy projects – stuff that’s referred to in ever-wonky energy speak as “non-energy benefits.”

But those “non-energy benefits” are vital to correcting the history of redlining in environmental justice communities.

If we don’t count the community impacts of a potential clean energy program or project it means we value communities and their needs at zero. We think environmental justice communities count and should be valued. We want the CPUC to consider a clean energy project’s ability to cut pollution, lower energy bills, improve fire safety, and support workforce development when authorizing or evaluating the impact of their clean energy investments decisions. We want officials to consider the real-world needs of environmental justice communities.

AB 961 Helps Makes Sure Environmental Justice Communities Count

AB 961 will help do that. It formalizes a recommendation in the California Energy Commission’s unanimously adopted SB 350 Low-Income Barriers Study to establish common definitions of “non-energy benefits,” develop standards to measure them, and prioritize projects that promote them in environmental justice communities.

Greenlining believes defining, valuing and prioritizing these beneficial features of clean energy projects and programs will produce better and more cost-effective investments in the communities that need them the most. As the California Energy Commission explained, “Recognizing non-energy benefits not only helps justify the costs of such programs, but can convey a clearer picture of the societal benefits from such investments of public funds.” We know investing in environmental justice communities can result in lower energy bills for low-income customers in addition to promoting jobs and economic development.

Greenlining believes defining, valuing and prioritizing these beneficial features of clean energy projects and programs will produce better and more cost-effective investments in the communities that need them the most.

This gives all California ratepayers a greater return on our clean energy investments. Counting the things that matter most to low-income communities of color when planning our clean energy transition benefits all Californians, not just environmental justice communities. For example, you can see the incredible results of when the CPUC values public health, community engagement, lower energy bills, workforce development and tenant protections in its recent decision adopting 11 community-led clean energy pilots in the San Joaquin Valley.

California’s Assembly Committee on Utilities and Energy will hear AB 961 on April 10th. If you would like to support AB 961, please send in a support letter to Madeline Stano Energy Equity Legal Counsel with The Greenlining Institute. A sample support letter can be found here.

Madeline Stano is Greenlining’s Energy Equity Legal Counsel. Follow them on Twitter.

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