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An Equitable Transition to 100% Clean Energy in Washington

With the start of 2021 Washington State’s Clean Energy Transformation Act comes into full force and electric utilities must demonstrate their immediate compliance with the planning provisions of the law. Transitioning Washington state to 100% clean electricity over the next two decades will look different across the 64 large and small, urban and rural, and private and public utilities that service the state. But the core equity requirement is the same for each one: to ensure that “all customers benefit from the equitable distribution of benefits and reduction of burdens” in the transition. Equity elements are a part of new: energy assistance, long range plans (Integrated Resource Plans), implementation plans (Clean Energy Implementation Plans), procurement (request for proposals), and, throughout, public participation.

Front and Centered helped write and pass CETA in 2019, and since then participated in workshops, conversations and comment opportunities led by the regulatory and oversight bodies charged with producing the rules and the tools that will keep utilities on track to meet transition targets. The Department of Commerce, Department of Health and Utilities and Transportation Commission have heard our concerns and come out with compliance rules and a Cumulative Impact Analysis (CIA) to keep equity at the forefront of transition processes.

Equitable 100% Clean Energy: How will it happen?

Front and Centered advocated for CETA rulemaking that would center equity in every step of utility compliance with the decarbonization targets that would lead to fossil fuel free electricity in Washington by 2045.

Requiring that Utilities Provide Energy Assistance

CETA amends the Energy independence Act, Washington’s first landmark clean electricity law that require use of renewables, to mandate that utilities to provide energy assistance to low income households. Low income is defined to mean the greater of 200% of Federal Poverty Level (e.g. $52,400 for a family of four) or 80% Area Median Income (e.g. $95,250 for a family of four in King County, WA). A household’s energy burden is the percent of their income that is required to cover the cost of energy. Under the energy assistance provisions, low income households qualify to receive assistance to bring their energy burden down to six percent. The amount of assistance required to bring a household’s energy burden down to 6% is the household’s energy assistance need. Under CETA, utilities are required to meet 90% of low income customer’s energy assistance need by 2050. Utilities must demonstrate progress in meeting this target through programming that may include bill support, weatherization and conservation, among other assistance.

Long-Range Planning: Looking Ahead and Assessing Impacts in Utility IRPs

Electric utilities are required to produce Integrated Resources Plans (IRPs) where they set out their long term resource management and acquisition strategy to meet the needs of customers. The IRPs will include a data assessment of the highly-impacted communities and vulnerable populations who are affected by the operational decisions utilities make, such as:

  • Getting, moving, and storing clean electricity
  • Building, taking down and maintaining assets and infrastructure
  • Hiring, training, supporting and promoting their workforce
  • Identifying and contracting with business partners
  • Understanding, serving and supporting customers

CIA Tool for Analyzing Climate Impacts

Highly-impacted communities will be identified using the Cumulative Impact Analysis (CIA), a valuable tool for understanding which communities in a utility’s service area – and otherwise located near a utility’s transmission and storage assets – experience the highest rates of adverse health conditions, environmental harms, and other risk factors from climate change and fossil fuel emissions. The Washington State Department of Health created a CIA framework, with technical modeling led by UW, to identify communities highly impacted by both climate change and fossil fuels on population health.

The CIA framework adds climate change indicators on top of the existing environmental health disparities map, which was co-developed by Front and Centered. Knowing that frontline communities are already experiencing the impacts of climate change on multiple fronts and are expecting conditions to worsen as time progresses, the CIA helps us understand how climate risks are impacting already overburdened communities. In developing a framework for assessing cumulative climate impacts, we emphasized the need to integrate data that identifies communities that are affected by multiple climate risks, communities that are more susceptible or vulnerable, communities that are impacted sooner or to a greater magnitude, and communities that have less adaptive capacity to mitigate the impacts of climate change. New climate change indicators added to the EHD map are climate projections on changes to temperature and precipitation.

Climate Risks

Extreme temperatures and weather events Flooding
Sea-level rise
Changes to levels of precipitation and snowfall

Impacts on Community

Food security
Damage to property
Ecological health

Adding on to the Environmental Health Disparities Map, the Cumulative Impact Analysis overlays climate impact forecasting over the risk spread identified in current data on community experiences, by census tract. Front and Centered Environmental Health Lead Esther Min has played a leading role in bringing the risk and impact data together in useful format to apply to equitable policy and transition planning.

To promote equitable distribution of benefits and reduce burdens in overburdened and highly impacted communities, the CIA brings together demographic, health, educational, socioeconomic and geographic data. Zip code and census tract data overlaid with a geographic breakdown of climate impacts will allow utilities to know how communities with different degrees of vulnerability and risk factors are affected by climate change in addition to existing environmental harms from fossil fuel pollution and population vulnerabilities identified in the EHD map. Knowing more about their customers and the human impacts of their operations, utilities will develop a 10-year Clean Energy Action Plan framing their approach to meeting transition goals and addressing those impacts as part of their IRPs.

Some utilities have already begun to consider how to address these new IRP requirements. See discussion documents from Puget Sound Energy and Avista.

Implementation Planning: Taking Steps to Track Equity Impacts, and Action to Address Them in Utility CEIPs

In addition to the IRP requirement, CETA mandates that utilities submit four-year Clean Energy Implementation Plans (CEIPs) which holds them to an enforceable compliance standard. In their CEIPs utilities must lay out specific action plans and targets, and those plans must be approved by regulators and their performance assessed. The CEIPs are a critical feature of CETA, where utilities have to commit to taking steps to achieve 100% clean energy in line with the equitable distribution mandate, and they have to Show Their Work.

Restorative Justice: The plan must include clear actions that utilities will take to facilitate an equitable transition.

Meaningful Participation: Members of the public and impacted stakeholders must be involved in developing the plans through a transparent and inclusive planning process of content consultation, review and comment, and responsive revision.

Adequate Reporting: Utilities must Show Their Work and report on performance towards achieving clean energy and equitable distribution targets

Accountability Mechanisms: Due regulatory oversight and enforcement, as plans must be approved and penalties applied for poor/nonperformance.

This iterative framework developed by the Initiative for Energy Justice lays out how the CEIP is the critical linchpin of an equitable transition that is self-reinforcing and balances effectiveness, inclusivity, transparency and oversight.

As a part of their CEIPs, utilities are required to track indicators to meet the equitable distribution mandate, and for investor-owned utilities (IOUs) guidance on what those indicators should be is specifically laid out. They must set at least one customer benefit indicator each for:

  • (1) Energy benefits, (2) non-energy benefits, and (3) reduction of burdens for highly-impacted communities and vulnerable populations

  • (4) Public health, (5) environment, (6) reduction in cost, and (7) reduction in risk

  • (8) Energy security and (9) resilience

Utilities have wide latitude in determining what benefits, burdens, and other impact factors they track to set and meet their equitable distribution targets, but their plans must be approved by the Commission and must consult with an equity advisory group described below. Energy benefits include opportunities and programming related to securing energy access and affordability – such as bill assistance, energy efficiency, weatherization, conservation, and reducing structural and systemic service disruptions; while non energy benefits are the transactional and investment opportunities for community ownership and economic participation in transition processes. Measures of community participation in transition planning, monitoring and oversight are helpful for facilitating procedural justice and democracy inputs beneficial to countering the standard patterns of paternalistic, marginalizing and often harmful, top-down decision-making. The costs and risks associated with the transition can disparately harm customers and communities in a number of ways, and utilities should understand and mitigate the harm wherever possible.

Procurement: Buying Electricity From Diverse Providers through Utility Requests for Proposals

The energy that utilities distribute to their customers can come from a variety of sources, and with the requirement to transition to 100% clean energy, many Washington utilities have to take big steps to source the energy they need to service their customers. Under CETA, investor owned utilities must buy electricity through an openly competitive process. All source Requests for Proposals (RFPs) must be issued in a wide-reaching solicitation, including directly targeted outreach to diverse energy providers, community-owned resources, women- and minority-owned businesses, and a variety of source types. The bid criteria and evaluation system need to be sufficiently clear and open that the RFP process is inclusive and bids responsive to meet the service area resource need. Appropriate bids will take into account the utility’s equitable distribution mandate, and in selecting providers from the proposals utilities must consider the equity-related impacts of the proposed provision arrangements. Utilities are required to report on the selection, including data on the bidders who were not selected.

Public Participation in Utility Planning and Equity Work

Utilities must facilitate meaningful public engagement in the transition, from planning to implementation. They can build greater transparency into how they develop their IRPs and CEIPs, RFPs and energy assistance, communication plans and customer service systems – and for the plans in particular, they must share drafts and respond to public input.

Under UTC rules, IOUs are required to create Equity Advisory Groups for consultation on understanding and addressing the impacts of transitioning to clean energy. These include half of Washington’s population who receive their electricity from Puget Sound Energy, Avista, or Pacific Power. In determining what steps to take to achieve greater equity outcomes, IOUs will engage their equity advisory board made up of diverse stakeholders representing a variety of equity-oriented interests in their service territories and sphere of impact. COUs are not required to form equity advisory groups, though municipal and public utility districts are more directly accountable to the public they serve.

What’s Next?

Front and Centered will engage our network to do our best to monitor utilities’ progress on implementing CETA, being transparent with planning and operational decisions, engaging with stakeholder input, tracking health and other equity-related conditions, and applying an equity lens to overall decision-making around how they hire, train, contract, spend, build, demolish, and otherwise follow the equity prescriptions as determined by the rulemaking.

Interested in learning more about 100% clean energy in Washington?
  • Rules for investor-owned utilities and the rulemaking record can be found on the Utility and Transportation Commission website, under a docket search for the IRP and CEIP rulemaking (consolidated dockets UE-191023 and UE-190698), and Purchase of Electricity rulemaking (docket UE-190837).
  • Rules for consumer-owned utilities and other information about CETA can be found on the Department of Commerce site.
  • Look up what local and environmental news media are reporting about CETA and Washington’s clean energy policy, as well as what your local electric utility is doing to advance an equitable transition.
  • And you can reach me at [email protected].


We’d like to give a shout out and a huge thank you to the Initiative for Energy Justice and the incredible research team who provided a deep analysis of why, and how, to measure equity in Washington’s clean energy transition, as well as a literature review of the resources that speak to developing an energy equity metric framework and the UW Environmental Law Clinic for vital legal analysis and writing in support of strong equity accountability in the rulemaking process in support of Front and Centered . Follow the IEJ to learn more about the opportunities for transforming how energy works to meet the needs of communities and promote a just and equitable transition to 100% clean.

Mariel Thuraisingham is the Clean Energy Policy Lead with Front and Centered, a climate justice coalition of over 70 organizations led by and serving the interests of communities of color in Washington. Front and Centered strives for a just transition to a regenerative economy by elevating the voices of frontline communities in advancing equitable environmental and climate policy.

1Equity language first appears in CETA with the clearly expressed intent of the law that the public interest includes … “The equitable distribution of energy benefits and reduction of burdens to vulnerable populations and highly impacted communities; long-term and short-term public health, economic, and environmental benefits and the reduction of costs and risks; and energy security and resiliency. It is the intent of the legislature that in achieving this policy for Washington, there should not be an increase in environmental health impacts to highly impacted communities.” RCW 19.405.010(6).

2The environmental health disparities map is recommended by the Environmental Justice Task Force to use in determining cumulative impacts and overburdened communities in agency decision-making. Front and Centered and our member organizations hosted conversations on how climate change is impacting our frontline communities. Front and Centered and our member organizations hosted conversations on how climate change is impacting our frontline communities.