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Centering Equity in Washington’s Clean Energy Transition

Power lines with a blue sky behind them.

Advancing a Just Transition across Washington State means shifting power back into the hands of frontline communities, stopping what harms us, and building the future we need. That includes building a just and regenerative energy system that puts the health and well-being of current and future generations first at every stage of the energy process, from generating power to lighting and heating our homes.

In 2019, Front and Centered helped write and pass the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) to transition Washington state to 100% clean electricity over the next two decades. We have worked ever since to ensure that CETA is implemented in a way that stays true to provisions we fought for – the equitable distribution of clean and affordable energy and reducing burdens on frontline communities. 

Three years after passing CETA into law, utilities have made halting progress in advancing the stated goals for electric utilities to equitably transition to 100% clean, non-greenhouse gas emitting electricity for Washington consumers. Emissions free electricity must come from clean sources, including renewables like solar and wind. This law is born of the state’s vision for a clean energy future that requires utilities, as purveyors of the means to illuminate, heat/cool, and power much of our daily lives, to drive the transition by leading with equity.

Front and Centered and other advocates worked on CETA provisions mandating that all utilities ensure an equitable distribution of benefits and reduction of burdens in achieving the law’s goals. CETA also requires that utilities demonstrate progress towards reducing energy burden (amount of household income that goes towards energy costs) for low income customers and that contractor and workforce assignments for the transition reflect representation by people of color and women, among other groups, as well as higher labor standards.

Where are we with CETA now?

Electricity emissions reductions are vital to countering the harms of climate change and fostering a regenerative economy. Utilities have developed and published plans to achieve and sustain CETA emissions reduction targets and reaching 100% emissions-free power by 2045. Three investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and over 60 consumer-owned utilities (COUs) service Washington with electricity. Each one has proposed in their plans to take specific steps to ensure that customers are benefiting from equity measures. 

The only transition off fossil fuels that is just or feasible is one that centers equity by elevating and prioritizing the interests of the people and communities most vulnerable to exclusion and harm as a result of doing things the same old way. Utilities are obligated to center equity through planning and acting to ensure an equitable distribution of benefits and reduction of burdens for customers and communities. Under CETA utilities are required to produce a Clean Energy Implementation Plan (CEIP) to demonstrate how they will urgently and equitably meet the law’s targets. These utility action plans are now submitted and under review, with the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) geared up to approve, or not, IOU plans and the State Auditor determining COU plan compliance under the guidance of Department of Commerce rules. You can view utility plans on the respective utility or Commerce website.

In order to comply with the law, utilities are proposing metrics and indicators linking actions they will take with equity outcomes for highly impacted communities and vulnerable populations to reduce burdens, risks, and costs, and to achieve benefits for public health, the environment, resiliency, and security. Most utilities are coming up with a number of equity indicators, as well as using data tools including the Environmental Health Disparities Map to identify and target distribution of transition benefits to specific communities. Appropriate equity measures are necessary to name and build out accountability mechanisms to address participation and outcome disparities, public health and environmental impacts, disproportionate utility cost burdens, energy shut offs and insecurity, infrastructure and development and associated pollution impacts, and power sources rooted in the dig, dump, burn economy.

Wind turbines in the countryside at sunset.

It is indisputable that taking action now is far less costly than putting it off.

Here’s how utilities and regulatory agencies can step up:

  • Listen to the most disadvantaged customers about their needs – this will not align perfectly with how utilities set their own priorities.
  • Share resources and power with marginalized and underrepresented communities – this will not fit neatly into shareholder interests and will require deviating from status quo governance models.
  • Set and hold responsible entities to high performance standards to embed accountability into the transition and sustained systemic practices.
  • Invest attention to equity in every area of operation – resource selection and generation, transmission and storage, customer and community service, maintenance and sustaining access for all users, energy assistance and ratemaking, efficiency and conservation programs, jobs and contracting, leadership and governance, planning and target-setting, asset management and just revenue systems, performance tracking and evaluation, and regulatory and policy action – so many processes and functions that can be more transparent, inclusive, accountable, and equity-oriented.

On August 17, 2022, Front and Centered held a virtual briefing called: “Energy Justice—How Do We Fulfill CETA’s Promise?” to help members and partners learn more about CETA implementation and our efforts to center equity. Speakers included: 

  • Mariel Thuraisingham, Front and Centered, Clean Energy Policy Lead
  • Deric Gruen, Front and Centered, Co-Executive Director, Programs and Policy
  • Lauren McCloy, NW Energy Coalition, Policy Director 
  • Leena Vo, Asia Pacific Cultural Center, Program Manager 
  • Paul Tabayoyon, Asian Pacific Islanders Coalition – Yakima, Community Outreach Coordinator
  • Nico Wedekind, University of Washington School of Law Regulatory Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, Diehl Fellow 

To find out more about CETA implementation and centering equity in Washington’s clean energy transition, contact Front and Centered Clean Energy Policy Lead Mariel Thuraisingham at [email protected]