Turning the tide on the climate crisis demands a fundamental shift in how California solves energy problems. For too long, we have sited polluting power plants where the land was cheap and where there were few legal challenges, and all too often these places have been in our most disadvantaged Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. As a result, our communities of color have suffered elevated asthma, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems for decades.
Here in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, we have started to address this issue by cutting our use of electricity made with natural gas by 79% since 2013. That helps, but power providers like Sonoma Clean Power still rely on large natural gas power plants around the state to back up solar power after the sun sets each day.
That’s why we’re working to create clean backup sources like batteries, by increasing participation in our GridSavvy demand response program and encouraging customers to sign up for EverGreen, our 100% local renewable service. The hard reality is that there is a lot more work to do before we can stop relying on polluting natural gas plants altogether.
Air pollution is happening here at home in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties too, where this summer PG&E is installing large diesel generators in some of our neighborhoods to keep the lights on during Public Safety Power Shutoffs. These generators may be necessary in the short term, but we need to quickly transition to cleaner solutions to avoid creating more unhealthy communities. Sonoma Clean Power has started working with our member-cities to coordinate local plans for replacing them as fast as possible.
To achieve a just transition to a clean energy future, we must not only be thinking about our impact on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, but also about the people and places who are impacted as we work on those goals, and above all, those who might be left behind.
Sonoma Clean Power was founded on the idea that a public power provider would allow our community to choose its power sources and accelerate the adoption of renewable energy. On that, we were right. There are now 21 operating programs like SCP around California serving more than 10 million customers and building more than 3,600 megawatts of new renewable sources.
But we must build on that success by ensuring our actions actively work to reverse the policies that have resulted in large numbers of Latinx farmworkers living in the hottest regions in the least-insulated apartments with the most expensive energy bills. We must work to reverse the policies that have resulted in wealthy neighborhoods “exporting” their air pollution to poorer areas of California by siting dirty power plants far away. The recent federal loosening of air and water pollution criteria for power plants and the weakening of the EPA’s ability to regulate are two examples of these policies, which are the very definition of systemic racism in the energy industry.
Our nation tends to argue over policy on the basis of which political party created it, or whether the intentions of its champions were “good.” But polices should be measured solely on their actual impacts. Intent does not matter. When a policy causes a racist result, it should be reversed.
Our progress as a country has come with many costs, both social and environmental, and these past months have made it clear that going “back to normal” is simply not possible. So, as America seeks to form a more perfect union that is truly equitable for everyone, we will be in the room, working to do our part. Thank you to the thousands here at home who are inspiring us.
Chief Executive Officer of Sonoma Clean Power
Disparities in the Impact of Air Pollution - American Lung Association
Environmental & Climate Justice - NAACP