Communities of color regularly hurt by fossil-fuel energy plants

An industrial power plant festooned with smokestacks. (Photo: J.D.S., via Shutterstock)

 California is an international leader on climate change, and for good reason: Our ambitious clean energy goals have driven change across the United States and the world.

But the lofty goals and glowing headlines betray a much harsher reality. Because our state is so far behind on approving and building green energy projects, every summer California fires up dirty fossil-fuel “peaker” power plants across the state to try to keep the lights on.

Want to guess where these plants are usually located? That’s right, overwhelmingly in underserved neighborhoods and communities of color.

Dirty fossil fuel plants, located in underserved communities, will continue polluting those communities because the CPUC has lacked the will to get new green energy projects approved.

California’s energy grid is woefully inadequate to meet our current electricity needs, let alone our projected needs five to 10 years from now. This sad reality was painfully evident last summer as our state grappled with rolling blackouts when fires and heat waves combined to tax our system well past its limit. Millions of California residents and businesses lost power, and of course, it was communities of color that were hardest hit – a double whammy of bearing the brunt of the pollution from power generation and economic losses from blackouts.

Last summer’s blackouts were a catastrophe on many levels and state regulators are moving to do what they can – thinking purely short term – to avoid similar blackouts this summer.

Just last month, the CPUC unveiled new proposed actions that include the procurement of additional fossil fuel power generation to come online between 2023 and 2026. This likely means dirty fossil fuel plants, located in underserved communities, will continue polluting those communities because the CPUC has lacked the will to get new green energy projects approved and in the pipeline, including long duration energy storage projects that have the ability to replace the need for dirty peaker plants in times of extreme need.

One of the answers the state must embrace: approval of green energy projects that can be fast-tracked to have an impact in a few short years, such as the nearby Eagle Mountain Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Project.

This project has been through the environmental review process and is essentially shovel ready, and if the state gave it the go ahead it could be online by 2027, providing 1,300 megawatts of clean energy during peak hours of demand all while keeping dirty natural gas plants in underserved communities offline.

Beyond its environmental benefits, this project would create thousands of jobs in the Eastern Coachella Valley, which has been particularly hard hit over the last year. The new jobs created by Eagle Mountain will spur further economic growth and job creation, benefiting all communities in the Coachella Valley, especially communities of color.

Environmental justice and social justice should go hand in hand. But for too long, many of the environmental groups who hold immense power in Sacramento have kept their laser focus on only what matters to them, ignoring the impact of some of their decisions on California’s communities of color. Doing what is right for the environment should benefit everyone, not just the privileged.

The CPUC can put a stop to this madness, enable projects that will benefit all Californians and continue our progress to a carbon-free grid. California has a lot on the line with green energy, and it is not just about living up to expectations.

Our businesses, our livelihoods, our communities of color, are depending on California making good on both its green energy and its social justice promises and not sacrifice one for the other.

Editor’s Note: Maribel Nunez is the executive director of the Inland Equity Partnership in the Coachella Valley

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