Research: Engagement for a Just Energy Transition

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Our research report Common Threads: Designing Impactful Engagement provides guidance to help companies better engage external stakeholders and address material issues. The report explores corporate engagement on a material topic for four different sectors. For energy utilities the focus was a just energy transition and we look here at two examples of corporate community engagement that support a just energy transition.

As the world transitions from fossil fuels to clean energy access it is imperative that everyone can afford and share in the benefits of clean energy.

NGO advocates are concerned that low-income communities and communities of colour will be the last to access the economic and environmental shares of affordable clean energy and efficiency programs. Low income communities are also most likely to struggle to adapt to changing job and skill markets as fossil fuel power stations are closed.

A small number of leading utilities are being increasingly proactive in their engagement with community groups, NGOs, employees, unions, policy makers and regulators on an equitable clean energy transition. Two examples are Southern California Edison and Enel.

Southern California Edison: Engaging Communities

Low-income and vulnerable communities help shape policy and services to better meet their needs.

California has some of the most ambitious climate goals in the world – aiming for zero carbon electricity by 2045. Nearly half of residential households in Southern California Edison’s (SCE) are located in disadvantaged and low-income communities and are vulnerable to extreme pollution and poverty. Such communities need help to achieve the benefits of adopting clean energy technology such as electrification.

The Charge Ready project gives customers the option to own, operate and maintain the EV charging infrastructure installed on their premises. A majority of participants will receive a rebate for as much as half of the cost of their EV charging stations.

This was developed based on years of proactive engagement by SCE with local community groups and the California Public Utilities Commission. The Clean Energy Access Working Group continues to bring community voices to the table and makes sure that concerns are heard and integrated into energy policies.

Enel – Engaging Employees & Unions

Social dialogue with workers and unions to develop re-skilling and retraining programmes that enable continued employment and economic investment in the local community.

As coal-fired power plants are phased out, utilities are recognizing the need to engage with workers at risk of being left behind. Enel has been a leader in this process, engaging directly with both employees and unions to ensure a smoother, and more equitable transition process. One example is the Futur-e project in Italy, where Enel aims to transform 23 non-renewable power plants into “eco-sustainable enterprises” dedicated to science, art, culture and tourism. As part of this process, the company aims for a majority of current workers to be redeployed in the new enterprises.

To achieve this goal, the company has engaged directly with employees on a strategy which includes training and skills development, as well as collaborating with Eurelectric, the employers’ association of European utilities. The engagement has enabled the company to understand the specific needs and challenges that employees are facing, and the training and skills needed to ensure a majority are able be employed in the new local industries that are being created.

As the transition to a clean energy economy accelerates, we expect to see more energy utilities engage with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure an equitable transition. This also must include working with investors to develop and support innovative financing mechanisms, such as green bonds, that will be essential for financing projects targeted at low-income and underserved communities.

About the author

Bron York
Bron York

Bron is one of the co-authors of this year’s Globescan-SustainAbility Leaders Survey. She is also part of SustainAbility’s Research and Trends Team, providing clients with insight into emerging sustainability developments across sectors and geographies.

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