Washington state enacted the Clean Energy Transformation Act in 2019, calling for our electricity system to be free of greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. He also called for programs to ensure that utilities are responsive to all of their customers – and Puget Sound Energy has created its Equity Advisory Group to do just that. I spoke with Diann Strom, Head of Strategic Engagement, and Elizabeth Purdy, Senior Community Engagement Representative, to learn more about the progression of PSE.
âTwo years ago, CETA was passed by the legislature, which set historic standards for clean electricity, and PSE supported this effort,â Strom said. “The standards relate to utilities without coal by the end of 2025, carbon neutral by 2030 and providing 100% clean electricity by 2045.”
The objectives of the Equity Advisory Group are also very clear. âWhat’s important for us is to hear a diverse mix of voices,â Strom continues. Energy planning is not something most people think of, but it is really important, so our goal is to bring new voices heard, especially from communities that have historically had no place in the world. table, because of costs, awareness or systematic inequalities.
Right now, Strom and the rest of the team are working hard on a four-year clean electricity plan. âThe schedule is very tight: our final plan is due out in October, so we spent the months of May and June working to engage our clients, in addition to meeting with our Equity group,â says Strom. âWe have 13 members, most of whom represent community organizations, bringing diverse experiences and perspectives as well as geographic diversity to the table.â
Some of these partnerships are well established, but others are quite new. âWhen we meet them, we are delighted to be able to better understand the perspectives of low-income clients and front-line communities such as Blacks, Aboriginals and people of color. We are happy that they are making sure that we design this plan with the interests of the community in mind, âsays Strom. âSustainable Connections is part of the group and helps attract small businesses. We also have Teresa Taylor from the Lummi Indian Business Council’s Office of Economic Policy who is involved and providing her lived experiences related to tribal interests. We met with the Institute for Energy Studies at Western Washington University; they held a focus group session with students to get their thoughts on green electricity and the benefits they see. And we’re also working with other groups in Skagit Valley and Island County.
In addition to correspondence and meetings, PSE has also opened an online portal which customers can access on their own schedule. âGo to our website, sign up for our mailing list, take a look at what we’re doing. We recently asked people to give us their thoughts on their clean electricity values ââand what they see as a benefit, to help us develop a list of customer benefits to shape our plan and monitor. the future, âStrom said. âI would also like to note that our Fairness Advisory Group meetings are open for observation – anyone can come and watch. They are posted on YouTube and we take the time to listen to the public’s comments at the end of the meetings.
PSE also remains committed to helping in other ways. âThe COVID Bill Assistance Program has paid approximately $ 725,000 since April to customers here in Whatcom County, and the program continues. We work with many community partners like the Opportunity Council, ensuring that agencies and nonprofits providing direct services to low-income people help raise awareness of this opportunity, âsaid Elizabeth Purdy. âWe also had the Small Business Energy Makeover that the James Place Child Development Center received. They were able to secure $ 45,000 in energy efficiency upgrades, including a better air filter and energy efficient windows, all of which ensure that child care operators can continue to operate safely during COVID. “
PSE’s reach goes beyond what you might expect from an electric utility. “We just helped the Whatcom Community College Foundation establish a scholarship for a first generation or underrepresented student going into engineering, cybersecurity or business, and I hope we get more things like that’s to pursue, âPurdy said. âWe also gave $ 30,000 in contributions to food banks here in Whatcom County earlier this year. Knowing that food security was of the utmost importance, and something people are experiencing in a new way with COVID, this was a contribution we were really happy to work on with community partners. “
Local residents can also keep an eye on the infrastructure projects that are underway. âThe Town of Bellingham is a partner for community solar sites, and things like these will take shape next year. A public charging station is coming to Whatcom County, and you’ll see more things like this, âPurdy says. âSafe, reliable and affordable is what PSE offers as the clean energy partner of choice for the customer. “
Strom echoes these values ââand the vision for the future. âWe are on the road to 100% clean electricity, and our mission is to ensure that the transformation is fair, that the benefits are fair, that all customer voices are heard. Over the next two years you will see different programs. Some are going to be solar; some may have batteries. I know this stuff is coming – a cleaner electric future, âshe said. âClean, safe, affordable, reliable, that’s the bottom line. “