Washington’s population is growing, the economy is diversifying, and the state is increasingly prioritizing higher quality resources for a reliable energy supply—one that is sufficient and free of the greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants that accelerate the climate crisis and harm the health of our communities and the environment.
As we face the climate catastrophe, environmental degradation, economic insecurity, and public health crises, the well-being of our communities depends on an energy system that puts the interests of those on the frontlines first for the benefit of all. The transition to a clean and just energy system will require coordinated efforts from our public and utility sectors to secure universal and equitable access to power that meets our needs, prioritizes well-being, and preserves the rights of future generations to sufficient, clean, and community-centered energy.
Our Energy Justice Goals and Objectives
“As a frontline worker, a baker feeding our community, and a caretaker of a disabled adult, I have been able to consistently pay my power bill during this COVID pandemic and winter cold spells only because I was able to keep working. I use wood to help heat my manufactured home but worry that electric only heating would be unaffordable if my primary source of heat fails.
“In seeking information how to lower my energy costs, I have been informed that I am not eligible for many of the energy efficiency programs from my utility or other local programs. With the recent removal of our neighborhood trees (for fire safety) that shaded my home and created natural cooling, I worry that air cooling will now be an added expense with continued hotter summers. We must identify those like myself who are on the edges of energy stability and are need more access to future programs of assistance to participate in Washington’s clean energy transition.”
— Richard, a Front and Centered member in Yakima
Front and Centered’s Vision for an Energy Assistance Center
Washington residents are facing rapid increases in the cost of living that includes higher prices for utilities. With the state’s growing population and a commitment to a transition off of carbon-emitting electricity generation, consumers are facing higher rates for electricity service while utility companies are required to expand and improve how they operate.
Energy assistance is available for residents with lower and fixed incomes and at risk from high utility debt and disconnection, but the system is a patchwork with significant gaps that leave up to 80% of eligible households underserved. Only a small percentage of low-income households are served by individual statewide programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), that have similar eligibility standards
A utility assistance system with a large number of utilities, providers, programs and sources requires greater alignment to fill those gaps. Transforming this patchwork into an integrated mechanism is key to meeting energy assistance needs.
Front and Centered is proposing a Washington Energy Assistance Center to be established as a permanent, independent organization designed to champion and ensure universally accessible energy assistance to energy burdened lower and moderate income energy customers.
Download Our Vision for an Energy Assistance Center
“We must put the health and well-being of current and future generations first at every stage of the energy process, from source to use.”
A Washington Energy Assistance Center would:
“We’re fighting for universal access to sufficient power to live, regardless of ability to pay, as part of the Just Transition to clean, carbon-free energy.“
— Mariel Thuraisingham, Clean Energy Policy Lead
Implementation of the Clean Energy Transformation Act
In 2019, Front and Centered led the policy development to ensure equity was at the heart of proposals to eliminate fossil fuels from electric utilities. The Washington legislature passed the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) in 2019 to direct electric utilities to undertake an equitable transition to 100% clean, non-emitting power resources to support the state’s electricity needs by 2045.
Washington’s Department of Commerce and its Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) are the primary agencies charged with guiding and overseeing utility compliance with CETA, and the over 65 electric utilities in Washington must report on their compliance plans and performance. We are advocating for highly-impacted communities and vulnerable populations to experience the direct energy, health, environmental, resiliency, safety, security, and economic benefits of the transition.
Front and Centered is participating in the UTC’s process for reviewing investor-owned utilities’ compliance plans, known as Clean Energy implementation Plans, with the Puget Sound Energy proposed plan slated to be rejected, approved, or approved with conditions in the spring of 2023.
July 16, 2021 — Front and Centered staff and members cut a ribbon at Shiloh Baptist Church to celebrate the church’s installation of solar panels.
Holding Utilities Accountable
Front and Centered recognizes the important step the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) took in ruling on Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) electric and natural gas general rate case. Front and Centered joined other energy justice advocates as parties in the rate case that led to the UTC’s order. The settlement will result in a significant reduction to the rate hikes originally proposed from Puget Sound Energy, lowering the potential cost to ratepayers by $82.1 million.
Further, the settlement makes significant progress toward decreasing the utility’s reliance on fossil fuels and decarbonizing PSE’s gas utility service, and it implements important provisions of the Clean Energy Transformation Act, which Front and Centered helped to pass in 2019. Front and Centered joined other energy justice advocates as parties in the rate case that led to this order
Highlights of the settlement include concrete measures to integrate equity into PSE’s decision making on major financial investments and operations, a proposal for a low-income bill discount rate, commitments to extend funding for low-income weatherization programs, and an equity analysis to inform how distributed energy resources, like community solar, can best serve highly impacted communities and vulnerable populations.
You can read the UTC’s press release about the settlement, as well as coverage of the case in the Seattle Times.