Well before the Biden administration launched the Justice40 Initiative with the goal of delivering 40% of the benefits of federal energy and environmental investments to disadvantaged communities, energy equity and affordability had become a hot topic among utilities and state regulators.
Across the country, utilities and regulators are having the conversation, but few have answers in the form of strategies and programs.
In fact, according to a new ICF report, Utility executive survey: How leaders are tackling decarbonization, resilience, and equity, a survey of nearly 200 utility leaders reveals that less than 3 in 10 utilities have an energy equity and affordability strategy in place, even though 96% of utility leaders expect to develop one within the next five years.
What’s driving the trend?
For years, utilities and regulators tended to address energy affordability through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and energy efficiency programs that had mixed success reaching customers in disadvantaged communities.
With the rise of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) based investing and calls from stakeholders ranging from employees to customers for utilities to do more to fulfill their missions as public service companies, utility leaders have coalesced around redoubled equity and affordability efforts as the right path forward.
In total, 91% of leaders surveyed by ICF say it is a moderate or high priority and 83% say their organizations have plans to invest more in equity and affordability. They’ve identified new technology programs (63%), assistance programs (60%), customer education and engagement programs (56%), and demand-side management (56%) as means to achieve success.
Becoming the new public service company
The role of the new public service company extends in many directions, from ensuring the clean air benefits of electric vehicles and rooftop solar systems are felt in communities that suffer the worst air pollution to helping develop a strong workforce in under-employed communities. In each case, serving the public interest isn’t purely altruistic. Community health builds local stakeholder support for future utility investments and creates business value.
However, utilities that already have next-generation equity and affordability programs in place will be the first to say: Pursuing meaningful goals in earnest is hard work and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
For more data on how utility leaders are responding to the energy equity and affordability imperative as well as insights on how to start pursuing common goals like workforce development, download the report now.
Utility executive survey: How leaders are tackling decarbonization, resilience, and equity provides original research from ICF shining a light on the rapidly evolving utility industry with insights from leaders across four key areas: decarbonization, resilience, electrification, and energy equity and affordability.