Part II: Energy Equity
Modernizing the power grid and decarbonizing our energy resources are important priorities for the ongoing sustainability and resiliency of every community nationwide. But expanding access to the many benefits of a clean energy future is also paramount. Designing solutions to benefit underserved communities is an essential part of the energy transition currently underway. Governments, utilities, educational institutions and industry advocates are working closely to address this important issue.
Following his discussion of energy efficiency Duane Baldwin, TRC’s Vice President of Advanced Energy now shares his professional insights on and personal commitment to energy equity.
Q: Why is energy equity important?
A: Energy equity is leveling the energy playing field. Disadvantaged communities have historically been burdened by pollution, underinvestment in clean energy infrastructure, and lack of access to energy efficient products. Energy equity means ensuring that these communities are given access to all the clean energy solutions that are available to their neighbors. Advancing energy equity will not only bolster our underserved communities, but it will also improve energy affordability, produce clean energy jobs, and improve the overall health of those communities more broadly.
Q: Why is energy equity important to utilities and the communities they serve?
A: There is an ongoing, robust conversation about energy equity among utilities. And there is a lot to consider: business operations, engineering and certainly politics. When launching any programs, the first thinking is usually around the cost/benefit analysis. But with energy equity, it’s first and foremost a fairness issue. Ensuring that all customers have equal access and are treated fairly when it comes to the service of electricity goes a long way to improving quality of life. Additionally, from a utility standpoint, energy equity leads to happier customers, increased energy reliability and improved efficiency.
Q: What are some examples of outstanding energy equity programs?
A: Energy equity programs can take many forms. They can provide customers with access to low-cost or no-cost efficient appliances or pay for insulation upgrades that would normally be out of reach. Or programs can work from within the industry to address workforce issues that drive the equitable creation of clean energy jobs.
A great example of the former is the Helping Home Fund that TRC implements for Duke Energy in North Carolina, in partnership with the North Carolina Community Action Association. This program assists income-qualified customers with health and safety, appliance replacement and HVAC replacement. We work with community-based organizations and local service providers to make energy efficiency improvements directly at customers’ residences. The program team visits homes, provides quality assurance checks for all project types, and we talk with customers about their experience and overall satisfaction. These are quality of life issues – the house is more comfortable, the old dirty furnace is carted away, and the monthly energy bills go down significantly. Our team gets calls and emails from participants, appreciative of the work being done to make their homes more comfortable and put a little extra money in their pocket.
We’re also very involved with workforce development, which provides equitable access to clean energy jobs through training and recruitment. We implement programs around the country that train members of disadvantaged communities to become contractors, installers, or trade allies. These programs are fantastic because they have compounding benefits – new jobs are being created in underserved communities, and at the same time, these trainees have a higher success rate in installing energy efficient upgrades in their communities, since they have the trust and credibility. With the recent passage of the IRA and IIJA bills, there’s even more funding coming down the pipeline, to pay for job training within disadvantaged communities. These jobs – which we call green-collar jobs – are going to be an incredibly important tool in achieving energy equity.
Q: Why is energy equity important to you personally, as a professional working in the energy efficiency industry?
A: Energy equity is personally very important to me. I find it so unfair to see disadvantaged communities of all types be left behind – particularly when there are solutions and tools readily available to others. Someone having to heat their home with the oven or pay a utility bill that is 35% of their monthly income puts that person at a huge disadvantage. An individual living in an improperly heated or cooled home is at far greater risk of asthma, heart disease, and other respiratory problems, especially in children and elderly individuals. As an energy efficiency professional, I feel a great responsibility- as does the broader industry- to address this imbalance and push what we know works into the areas that need that help most.
Recently I had the honor of being nominated to the board of directors of the Alliance to Save Energy, and I’m working with my peers to make sure that energy equity is front and center as we build our clean energy future. We call it the just energy transition, and that means keeping energy affordable and providing equal energy representation to all communities.
“Fairness is key to advancing our clean energy goals to where they need to be.” – Duane Baldwin