Due to a long history of poor planning and neglecting equity, our energy system is not resilient enough to handle increasing climate disasters like wildfires and extreme heat. Such disasters are straining our electric grid and resulting in blackouts, shutoffs, and increased pollution that hurt disadvantaged, low-income, and vulnerable community members first and worst.
While the climate crisis exacerbates these dangers, inequitable policies and practices have made them far worse, and threaten to keep California from meeting its statewide climate, air quality, equity, and energy commitments.
Environmental justice (“EJ”) communities suffer the most from the current energy system. In addition to being at the frontlines of pollution and climate disasters, these communities face the highest energy burden and are often not able to participate in the energy decisions that impact them and their families. This is a failure for the climate and a failure for equity. As California plans to take meaningful steps to improve grid reliability and resilience and transition to clean energy, environmental justice communities must be placed front and center.
Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs) have the potential to provide a framework for centering environmental justice communities in the energy system and empowering community-led decision-making. For decades, most of California’s energy was purchased and sold by investor-owned utilities (IOUs), which are private companies operated in large part by shareholders. CCAs, on the other hand, are formed by local city and county governments agreeing to purchase energy for their jurisdiction. CCAs are governed by boards of elected officials who are supposed to engage communities and allow them to lead. More than 10 million residents will likely fall within the jurisdiction of CCAs in upcoming years. This comes with both challenges and opportunities.
CCAs have the potential to help California achieve its climate and economic goals, and provide an opportunity to redesign the energy system with far-reaching benefits for customers, ratepayers, and EJ communities. However, this outcome is not guaranteed. As the California Alliance for Community Energy states, left to its own devices, a Community Choice program can “become just another rigid, business-as-usual bureaucracy that’s out of touch with the needs of the community it serves, perhaps only marginally better than the competing investor-owned utility.” CCAs and all energy utilities must be proactive and commit to centering EJ needs, values, and expertise.
Developed by the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA), while consulting with CCA representatives and other environmental and community-based organizations, this report provides key recommendations for CCAs and energy utilities to increase energy democracy, center equity, and maximize health, economic, and energy benefits for environmental justice communities. These include best practices on:
- Coordination with local, community-based organizations (CBOs);
- Accessible information and outreach;
- Community-driven, local program design;
- Transparent decision-making; and
- Local and state accountability.
We designed this report to be a tool for clean energy advocates and partners, CCA and utility staff, and elected officials in the Legislature and state agencies to advance toward an environmentally just energy system.
- The Energy Justice Workbook by the Initiative for Energy Justice
- Guide to Creating State of the Art Community Choice Programs by the California Alliance for Community Energy
- Resilience Before Disaster: The Need to Build Equitable, Community-Driven Social Infrastructure by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)
- The Energy Democracy Project