A new policy database containing energy equity-related actions could serve as a useful starting point for state policymakers and stakeholders who want to enact similar energy equity measures or adapt policies to their local circumstances.
Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) partnered with E9 Insights to screen over two years' worth of policy documents (e.g., bills, dockets, and executive orders) identified through keyword searches for energy equity and related terms.
The screening produced 95 state legislative, executive, and regulatory actions directed at electricity and natural gas utilities. They found that 22 states and D.C. were adopting energy equity-related measures between January 2020 and July 2022. These measures indicate steps that utilities can take or are already taking to make energy more affordable, reliable, accessible, and beneficial for disadvantaged communities in their state.
The Department of Energy funded this study under the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium as part of a program that delivers technical assistance to states seeking to make their local power systems more equitable.
The summary report of the database is titled “Assessing the Current State of U.S. Energy Equity Regulation and Legislation.” Both the database and the report are available for download.
Key energy policy insights
Additional information was collected on each of the 95 actions, including drivers, regulatory focus, objectives, outcomes, and metrics. Most equity measures were associated with resource planning, decarbonization, and energy efficiency regulation.
The screening of the findings revealed relatively few energy equity metrics for measuring the impact and outcomes of those actions. For the few states with equity metrics, affordability and energy burden metrics were the most common.
Jay Barlow, PNNL systems engineer, said that although the database is not a comprehensive catalogue of all energy equity measures enacted in the U.S., it provides a useful snapshot of the level of recent energy equity policy activity across the country. The research team also identified several trends and insights, such as which drivers were associated with which outcomes. For example, stakeholder-driven actions prioritized affordability, whereas actions initiated by legislative and regulatory branches were focused on access to innovative financing and technologies, and the executive branch focused on workforce development.
“The study tries to give the lay of the land. Policymakers and stakeholders can use the database to see what others have done. They can build on previous successes and create new policies and best practices,” commented Barlow.
Informing a more equitable power system
Disadvantaged communities have been historically overburdened by pollution, underinvestment in clean energy infrastructure, and lack of access to energy-efficient housing, transportation, water and wastewater infrastructure, and healthcare. But “energy equity” as a policy goal for states has been increasing in recent years, further amplified by President Biden’s Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, and Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government, both of which were issued during his first week in office.
Executive Order 14008 launched the Justice40 Initiative, an effort to direct 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments to flow to disadvantaged communities.
Even though the database shows many states already had policies around equity and environmental justice that predate Justice40, many policymakers are still working to formulate the right approach for their constituents.
Barlow hopes this work will help to bridge that gap by showing what is being done at a local policy level, which could be a foundation for future action toward a more equitable power system.
The research project benefited from the collaboration between LBNL and PNNL, with both labs building on their previous work in energy equity. Barlow worked with Nichole Hanus, Andrew Satchwell, and Peter Cappers from LBNL in the creation of the database and report.