California’s renewable energy standards are important to vulnerable communities

Miya Yoshitani
Miya Yoshitani

As the political landscape takes a frightening turn, California’s renewable-energy and energy-efficiency policy is a beacon for working families on the front lines of pollution and poverty. Last week, the California Energy Commission demonstrated the state’s leadership on creating a healthier environment for all people.

Through SB 350’s Golden State Standards, California established some of the most ambitious renewable-energy and energy-efficiency standards in the world. The law set goals for increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency 50 percent by 2030. Still, renewable energy is often inaccessible to low-income families and communities of color – the same communities that are overburdened by pollution from power plants, refineries and industrial transportation corridors.

That’s why we at Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and other environmental justice advocates, partnered with the California Energy Commission to develop the SB 350 Barriers Study. The study, which the commission adopted Dec. 14, identifies obstacles that keep low-income people from accessing renewable energy and energy-efficiency investments.

California shows that embracing energy efficiency lowers utility bills. Californians spend 20 percent less on electricity bills than average Americans. Those savings matter particularly for low-income families, who spend twice as much of their income on utility bills as the median U.S. household, and three times as much as higher-income families.

After months of engagement with our members – low-income Asian immigrants and refugees – labor unions and small businesses, the commission completed and adopted the Barriers Study in partnership with affected residents. Now, we have a clearer blueprint for improving our communities’ access to the benefits that renewable energy and energy efficiency offer.

As our state builds its renewable energy economy, we can ensure that all Californians are able to use these technologies that protect our health and our climate.

Our collaboration with the commission represents a paradigm shift in California’s approach to energy and climate solutions. In order to reach sustainability goals in an equitable way, we must begin with those most affected by the climate crisis: low-income families and communities of color. We applaud the commission for recognizing the leadership of these communities and employing our experience and knowledge to inform solutions.

The commission continues to demonstrate its commitment through innovative policies like California’s energy efficiency standards for computers and monitors, which are the first of their kind in the nation. The standards help Californians cut their desktop computer energy use in half, saving roughly $370 million on utility bills each year. The new standards, which the commission adopted, boost access to efficient technology.

The tech industry, environmental groups, public health voices, small businesses, schools and others support the new standards. They understand that more efficient computers and monitors reduce energy expenses. They know that less energy usage means less pollution, resulting in cleaner air and a healthier climate.

These new standards and the barriers study are milestones toward achieving California’s goals that benefit vulnerable families and communities.

While the president-elect appoints fossil-fuels executives to his Cabinet and dismisses climate change as a Chinese hoax, Asian Americans and immigrant families in California are taking care of the planet and our future, and building careers and businesses. The leadership of the California Energy Commission helps us advance the clean, renewable energy economy that communities need.

Miya Yoshitani is executive director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network, APEN. Contact her at miya@apen4ej.org.