Power Struggle

Power Struggle

As the state of California grapples with issues related to climate change and the very pressing need (over the objections of climate deniers) to lower the carbon footprint of residents in the state, concerns are bubbling to the surface regarding what is in the best interest of consumers regarding the best energy source for homes. This is an important discussion for everyone in the state and especially for those in low income and minority communities.

Some, like myself, wonder whether the most vulnerable communities will once again become pawns in what is shaping up to be an epic battle between energy giants (gas versus electric) as they struggle to control the energy infrastructure of the future. Leveraging costs to induce these communities to embrace one option over another as the most viable way forward may be more for their benefit than in the best interest of these consumers. Afterall, although cost is certainly important, cost isn’t everything.

As such efforts accelerate, it is important to keep in mind these corporate entities—though regulated—remain primarily focused on the long-term viability of their businesses and the rate of return to their investors.

Certainly, entities like SoCalGas, SoCalEdison, Pacific Gas and Electric, etc. should be applauded for their continued efforts to prevent millions of metric tons of Green House Gas emissions from spewing into the environment. The question is however, can they/will they play fair as the state seeks to more aggressively transition to renewable, less polluting sources of energy?

Or will they instead—in their perpetual quest for profit above all else—continue to use rate payer dollars to lobby against laws and regulations designed to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions while at the same time seeking to leverage cost savings as a way to entice consumers to choose their less optimal—for the environment and community health—service offering.

It is true that consumers with means often consider quality over cost when weighing purchasing decisions; while those who struggle to make ends meet like many in the inland region, are too often compelled by circumstance to weigh cost above all else. 

If, however low-income consumers understood that for a few more pennies a month they may be able to help assure better health outcomes for their children, they might be more inclined to choose an energy source contingent on factors other than cost. 

The inland region has poor air quality and high rates of residents suffering from asthma, other respiratory illnesses and heart disease for which greenhouse gas emissions are major contributors. As consumers, especially those in low income and minority communities, carefully consider their energy futures (gas versus electric), such decisions should be based on more than what costs they may incur for service on the front end. 

Consumers should be encouraged to also consider the price they will continue to pay in relation to their own health, the health of those they love and the health of their communities as low income communities are the ones who suffer the most from the impact of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to poor air quality. 

Although energy companies may promise they will provide a cleaner product than before at costs that are less than what another provider can offer, we must ask why and how? What are low income and working class consumers being asked to give up in exchange? After all, “cleaner” is not the same as “cleanest.” And, “better” health outcomes are not the same as the “best” health outcomes. Don’t these communities deserve the cleanest and best?

Service providers are offering a lot of data regarding current and proposed reductions in greenhouse gases  but we must ask ourselves—When it comes to the health of our children and the elderly are we willing to settle for better air quality or do we want the best possible air quality? We must remember that low cost is not necessarily conducive to the best available quality especially when it comes to impacts on public health. 

Clean energy in relation to climate change is another important priority requiring education and focus in minority communities. African Americans are among those most severely impacted by climate change and yet Black communities continue to be the least engaged on this important issue. 

In 2018, California passed a law requiring it to derive 100 percent of its power from zero-carbon energy sources by 2045. Some municipalities are already working to meet this goal ahead of schedule. At the same time, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is in the process of implementing SB 1477 which calls for the agency to create two new programs aimed at promoting the use of highly efficient building appliances. 

As local politicians and nonprofits accelerate their focus on the 2020 Census and the 2020 General Election it is equally important that the battle between energy giants to control the future distribution and consumption of energy not be left to these “power” brokers while communities are laser-focused on these other important priorities. We must make room in our collective agenda to educate and activate community engagement on this other important priority as well or important decisions will be made without input from strong voices from the Black and other minority communities. Being silent on this important issue is not an option. 

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

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