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Research Questions

  1. What is equity, what is energy equity, and how does the CPUC decision that motivates this work align with these definitions?
  2. What are equity metrics and how should they be developed?
  3. What are extant energy equity frameworks, what equity metrics do they include, and to what extent are they relevant for SCE's goals?
  4. What equity metrics would be relevant for SCE's goals of assessing the equity implications of climate adaptation projects that it might be considering, and how should they be used or not be used?

Social equity has become a key concern among public agencies. In 2020, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) adopted D. 20-08-046, Decision on Energy Utility Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments and Climate Adaptation in Disadvantaged Communities. This ruling requires utilities to engage disadvantaged communities and assess their vulnerability to climate impacts. It also requires utilities to evaluate how their climate adaptation efforts can promote equity. Southern California Edison (SCE), the sponsor of this work, is one of several investor-owned utilities regulated by the CPUC that must adhere to this rulemaking. The authors developed an illustrative set of context-specific equity metrics that SCE could build on and incorporate into its ongoing work toward climate adaptation. These metrics can help inform utility regulators and electricity utilities as they begin grappling with energy equity. It offers a straightforward methodology and a starting set of equity metrics that are intended to be adapted to different contexts.

Key Findings

  • Equity is a sense of fairness and speaks to differences in experiences and outcomes among disparate groups. Energy equity is the sense of fairness applied to the power sector. The CPUC decision defines for whom and why energy equity should be pursued and partially articulates how. However, it does not clarify the procedural, distributive, or contextual concerns around equity in climate adaptation.
  • In the context of this work on distributional equity, equity metrics measure how costs and benefits of a system or intervention accrue to different groups. An organization's choice of metrics should be informed by its equity goals and how it intends to achieve those goals.
  • Many metrics developed by state and local governments appear to be derived from the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Energy for Low-Income Communities Accelerator (CELICA) partnership. Most of the California Energy Commission's indicators have a direct analogue to a CELICA indicator or metric.
  • For SCE, the following equity metrics are a useful starting point for assessing equity in its projects: investment, employment, participation, electricity burden, implementation cost share, System Average Interruption Duration Index, System Average Interruption Frequency Index, account attrition because of nonpayment, hospitalization rates, weighted value of lost load for businesses and households, and community benefit.
  • There are at least three ways to use the metrics: to consider whether a project is equitable, to consider the project's impact on inequities, and to assess the equity of a portfolio of projects.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Southern California Edison (SCE) and conducted in the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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