The momentum to usher in a new era of cleaner, healthier, all-electric new homes and buildings has gained steam in California. With more than 50 cities either considering or having passed measures to accelerate all-electric buildings, the gas industry is working overtime to stoke fear around building electrification. In partnership with the California’s Energy Efficiency for All Coalition, The Greenlining Institute studied the challenges and opportunities that building electrification presents for low-income communities – 70 percent of whom are renters caught up in a housing and energy affordability crisis.
Greenlining’s Equitable Building Electrification Framework addresses the opportunities and challenges that electrification presents for low-income communities – 70 percent of whom are renters. The framework finds that electrification can be a transformative force for low-income residents and it explains the steps the state must take to ensure that electrification helps close the clean energy gap in California and provides relief to millions of residents facing energy insecurity in the current system.
Electrification provides low-income communities access to major benefits such as cleaner air, healthier homes, good jobs and empowered workers, and greater access to affordable clean energy and energy efficiency to reduce monthly energy bills, while helping the state meet its climate goals, including a net-zero carbon economy and 100 percent clean electricity by 2045.
Meanwhile, the cost of safely maintaining California’s gas system is set to escalate dramatically in coming years as increasing infrastructure costs and safety upgrades combine with a decline in demand as the state transitions away from fossil fuels to hit its climate targets.
The result will be higher costs spread around fewer customers – leading to significantly higher gas bills and prompting those with the means to do so to move off the system for financial, health, and environmental reasons. As this trend continues, gas customers who face barriers to electrification will need assistance to move to cleaner electric appliances to help shield them from the rising cost of gas.
What Is Building Electrification?
Building electrification means eliminating use of fossil fuels for functions like heating and cooking and replacing gas appliances with alternatives that use electricity. In California, 25 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the buildings we live and work in. As our electric grid gets steadily cleaner, building electrification can play a big role in fighting climate change.
Moreover, electrifying our homes has major health benefits. Burning gas releases nitrogen oxides and particulates, which can have serious health consequences.
This five-step framework presents a start-to-finish recipe for how the current goals of building electrification can be aligned with producing healthy homes, creating high quality, local jobs that cannot be outsourced, and establishing stronger connections between everyday Californians and our climate change policies and goals.
- Step 1: Assess the Communities’ Needs. This should include understanding barriers preventing community members from electrifying their homes, residents’ knowledge levels regarding building electrification, and their specific needs, wishes and concerns.
- Step 2: Establish Community-Led Decision-Making. Rich community input and engagement strengthen the overall program design quality with stronger cultural competence, ensure local buy-in and investment, and deliver tangible local benefits rooted in the lived experiences of everyday people. Partner with community-based organizations to develop a decision-making process that ensures that decisions are based on community needs and priorities.
- Step 3: Develop Metrics and a Plan for Tracking. Metrics should include both clean energy benefits like greenhouse gas reductions and community benefits such as local hires and residents’ ability to pay their energy bills without sacrificing other essential expenses.
- Step 4: Ensure Funding and Program Leveraging. Current low-income energy programs often fail to deliver maximum benefits to all qualifying households due to short and unpredictable funding cycles, poor program design that inadequately reaches qualifying customers, or lack of coordination and integration with complementary programs.
- Step 5: Improve Outcomes. Using the tracking and metrics plan described above, ensure that there is a continuous feedback loop to improve current and future programs’ reach and impact in ESJ communities. Consider adjustments to ensure the program reaches the people it seeks to reach and delivers the intended benefits. Together we can create the foundations needed for a just transition within the work to come on building electrification, but it will require deliberate and inclusive actions. This document can be used by anyone interested in solving problems with a fresh perspective, removing barriers to participation in the clean energy economy, and bringing communities together around shared goals.