Panel: Energy & Low-Income Communities: Protection from Energy-Related Pollution and Communities’ Access to Renewable Energy
(Natural Resource, Energy, and Environmental Policy)

Thursday, November 7, 2019: 1:45 PM-3:15 PM
Plaza Building: Lobby Level, Director's Row J (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizer:  Shanti Gamper-Rabindran, University of Pittsburgh
Panel Chair:  Elizabeth Wilson, Dartmouth University
Discussant:  Anna Ebers Broughel, Tetra Tech

Equity issues in Energy Policy – both in the Fossil Fuel and Renewable Energy sector - have garnered the attention of academics and policymakers. Equity concerns have taken a center stage in energy policy because low-income communities bear the brunt of pollution from fossil fuel extraction and combustion and because these very communities have the lowest rates of renewable energy adoption. This session addresses three interrelated energy equity issues.

The first equity concern is ensuring public health protection for these communities from pollution generated during energy extraction and power generation. Despite the gradual transition to renewable energy in US power generation, in reality, the US continues to rely on fossil fuel extraction and combustion, Nontrivial numbers of low-income communities across the US bear the costs from pollution associated with oil and gas extraction and coal extraction and the pollution associated with coal-fired power-plants. The first paper in the session by Gamper-Rabindran examines how recent changes in economic and technical analysis in regulatory impact assessment have systematically understated the health benefits from air pollution regulation. The adoption of these analyses would lead to the weakening of regulations and the exposures of low-income communities to even greater levels of air pollution and worsen already poor health outcomes.

The second equity concern is ensuring access to affordable clean energy for low income communities. Low-income communities face a number of barriers to adopting solar energy such as financing the upfront costs of buying into a shared solar project and their limited access to credit to undertake such investments. Relatedly, unless policies anticipate and mitigate potential equity issues from the energy transition to renewable energy, low income communities may face higher electricity prices. The challenges are to design policies that address various organizational and financial barriers to low-income communities’ adopting renewable energy; and for state and local governments to provide the policy environment to support low-income communities’ adoption of renewable energy and to mitigate undue financial burden. The next two papers in the session delve into these challenges. Chen investigate the financial and organizational models of three cases of Community Shared Solar in low-income communities in Colorado and Minnesota. Carley, Konisky and Helmke-Long undertake a survey conducted in partnership with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) to understand city managers’ understanding of impacts of energy transition policies on low income communities and policies to assist these communities to adapt to the transition.

The third equity concern is understanding the employment, both the number of jobs and the wages of jobs in the renewable energy sector as the US economy transition to greater shares of employment in that sector. Researchers are beginning to examine if and how public policies incentivizing renewable energy outcome affect employment in that sector. The final paper in this session by Arthur Lin Ku  delves into how net metering policies affect employment in the solar sector. 

This panel of paper complements the proposed Super-Session on Academia and Policymakers Dialogue: Energy Transition: Progress and Challenges and the Roundtable  for Educators on Energy Justice.

Policy and Organizational Models for Community Solar Access
Gabriel Chan, University of Minnesota

City-Level Perceptions of the Energy Transition and Efforts to Facilitate a Just Transition
Laura Helmke-Long, Sanya Carley and David Konisky, Indiana University