Energy Justice: What It Means and How to Integrate It Into State Regulation of Electricity Markets

Date01 November 2017
11-2017 NEWS & ANALYSIS 47 ELR 10927
Energy Justice: What It Means
and How to Integrate It Into State
Regulation of Electricity Markets
by Aladdine Joro
Aladdine Joro is a Sta Attorney and Lecturer at Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.
The evolution of electricity systems raises fundamen-
tal questions about how to balance innovation with
costs to individuals, particularly those individuals
who are less able to participate in or benet from the inno-
vation. W ho bears the costs of modernization, and how
we distribute the burdens and benets, are societal ques-
tions with policy implications that underlie the concept of
energy justice. Energy justice looks beyond income-based
discount rates that, while necessar y, are alone too blunt a
tool to optimize the underlying dyna mics that create the
need for such discounts.
Although the long-term goals of modernizing our elec-
tricity system, whether the sources of energy or the infra-
structure (i.e., the grid), include greater personal control
over energy usage and cost savings, there are up-front costs
that will often be borne by consumers. Even if total costs do
not increase, they may be redistributed as pricing systems
evolve to reect the changing nature of connections and
customer usage patterns. Increased or redistributed costs
raise concerns about potential impacts, particularly dispro-
portionate impacts, on low-income consumers, who are fre-
quently least able to accommodate higher or volatile energy
prices.1 is concern drives questions as to whether deci-
sions about our electricity system are “fair” or “equitable.
Energy justice is a relatively new concept as compared to
environmental justice, and although the ideas are related,
they at times diverge in objectives and strategies. Achieving
the full range of goals envisioned by both concepts2 requires
1. See, e.g., Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, Anticipated Policy
Framework for Time Varying Rates (June 12, 2014) (D.P.U. 14-04-B)
(“the Department is mindful of the concerns raised on behalf of low-
income customers and others who are unable to shift a signicant portion
of their consumption due to extraordinary circumstances, such as medical
equipment requirements”).
2. Such goals include ensuring grid safety and reliability, providing universal
access to aordable electricity, and reducing greenhouse gas and other
emissions from the generation and distribution of electricity.
anticipating where energ y and environmental equity con-
cerns overlap or dier. is Comment proposes a frame-
work for eva luating energy justice, recognizing that there
is not, nor need be, a uniform denition of what energy
justice means or what it seeks to achieve. e authority
and process for implementing this fra mework will d ier
across jurisdictions, but the Comment examines some of
the questions that state legislatures and ratemaking agen-
cies will face when integrating energy justice considerations
into their regulation of electricity markets.
I. Delving Into the Def‌inition of
Energy Justice
ere are few stand-alone denit ions or objectives for
energy justice, and the universa l adoption of a single def-
inition is unlikely. Predicting cost-dist ribution impacts
of ele ctricit y ma rket developments is often compl icated
by the fa ct that m any of the se policy initiatives a nd util-
ity procee dings bui ld on new technologies and novel
busines s strategies. An evaluation of equitable impacts
thus should go beyond a static con sideration of the cos t
of isolated actions. e following proposed denition
thus encompasses pri nciples that address energy equity
issues beyond the considerat ion of discounts for low-
income consumers:
Building on t he tenets of environmental justice , which
provide that all people have a right to be protected from
environmental pollution and to live i n and enjoy a clea n
and healthfu l environment, energy justice is based on the
principle that all people s hould have a reliable, s afe, and
aordable source of energy; protection from a di spropor-
tionate share of costs or negat ive impacts or ex ternalities
associated with bui lding, operating, and ma intaining
electric power generation, transm ission, and distribution
systems; a nd equitable distribution of and access to ben-
ets from such systems.
Author’s Note: is Comment is an outgrowth of work in the clinic
conducted under the author’s supervision; recently graduated students
Nadia Arid and Daniel Carpenter-Gold contributed to this work.
Copyright © 2017 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.

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