The National Black Caucus of State Legislators recently released its 2014 Winter White Paper entitled, The Need to Develop & Implement Equitable Energy Policies. In it, the august organization of roughly 675 black state legislators across the country sets forth a bold agenda for ensuring that the costs of transitioning to more renewable energy sources is not borne on the backs of low-income people.
Previously, NBCSL adopted a resolution “urging equitable distribution of electricity grid systems” in which it encouraged state legislators to:
- adopt net metering policies that ensure customers with distributed generation systems, like rooftop solar arrays, pay their fair share for the upkeep of the electric grid;
- develop policies for solar customers that increase cost transparency and determine whether non-solar customers actually benefit from the presence of distributed generation technologies to the electric grid; and
- support programs that help fund energy efficiency efforts by low-income households and communities.
NBCSL is enthusiastic about efforts to transition to cleaner, greener sources of renewable energy, particularly in view of the detrimental affects climate change and environmental injustice can have on people of color and members of low-income communities. In pursuit of a more equitable energy future, the organization is insistent that such a transition does not further disadvantage people who already pay a disproportionate share of their income to electricity costs.
In this report, NBCSL expresses its concern about the regressive nature of distributed generation policies. Increasingly, people who are able to afford things like rooftop solar panels are able to generate electricity for themselves, relying on the electric grid to supply any excess power they may need during off-peak times or when they have not produced enough energy on their own. If people produce more electricity than they need, they can sell that power back to their energy provider (i.e. the local utility company) and be compensated. NBCSL notes that these policies favor more affluent homeowners and place a disproportionate burden on low-income people and individuals who either rent their homes or cannot afford distributed generation policies.
NBCSL promotes clean energy, and wants to be sure that as we transition to increased use of more renewable energy sources the policies supporting the regulated utility environment do not unfairly overburden those least able to afford it. As such, NBCSL set forth five guiding principles that should be adhered to in implementing more equitable energy policy:
- Ensure that energy policies reflect core notions of equity and justice.
- Avoid regressive cost allocation in distributed generation programs.
- New regulatory frameworks should strive to distribute the costs of innovative new utility services more evenly.
- Study these issues in more detail and inform new policies with data.
- Assure robust consumer protections.
As noted in the report, NBCSL “recognizes renewable energy’s potential” but is wary of current policies that “exact an inequitable and unjust cost on minority, low-income and fixed-income consumers.” In promoting its policy agenda, NBCSL wants to be sure that policymakers do “not allow outdated policies to create a consumer caste system where some can utilize and benefit from solar policies at the expense of our most vulnerable of citizens.”