The panel discussion frequently hovered on the point that those making decisions on energy infrastructure projects must do better than just inform. Communities are fatigued with surface-level engagement – they want to know how their perspectives will feed into decisions and project execution. Best practice requires companies and organizations to provide opportunities for communities to input along the way, to enable co-design of the products and services that meet the needs of all stakeholders.
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) used a co-design approach for its Oakland Clean Energy Initiative. Chris Benjamin, Director Corporate Sustainability, a speaker on the panel, explained that the company is looking to replace an old jet fuel-powered power plant with distributed clean energy alternatives to maintain transmission reliability. The company engaged a wide range of local groups, such as the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local 1245, to shape the project, enabling the initiative to be approved by the state authority.
Coreina Chan, Principal at Rocky Mountain Institute’s Electricity Innovation Lab, pointed out that the regulatory landscape is supporting utilities to find other ways to make money and partner with communities to ensure there are low income energy solutions. She stressed that utilities and communities should collaborate on those business models that benefit both and put those solutions forward to regulators.