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Out West student blog

Achieving energy equity requires intentionality

Photo courtesy of Akruti Gupta

 

Akruti Gupta, MS '23
Hometown: San Jose, California
Area of Study: Civil and Environmental Engineering - Atmosphere/Energy Program
Intern, California Energy Commission

Akruti Gupta shares her experience working at the energy-equity nexus as an intern at the California Energy Commission

My time at the California Energy Commission (CEC) has been incredibly eye-opening. While I have been studying the different facets of the energy system in my program at Stanford, my exposure to the CEC’s work helped me understand the complex nature of this system and the complementary work of all the sister agencies in the West that keep the lights on and the AC running on these hot Sacramento summer days. In particular, it was enlightening to learn about the policies and programs that the CEC utilizes to bring ideas and academic concepts to fruition in the real world. 

One of the most pressing needs of the implementation of clean energy technology in California is to ensure it is being done equitably, such that communities that have been historically burdened or left out of our energy system are at the front of the line for the benefits associated with a clean energy future. Some examples of these burdens include poor air quality due to polluting facilities such as fossil fuel power plants, disproportionately higher energy bills as compared to income, and difficulty accessing clean energy technologies due to financial barriers. Communities in California are experiencing these types of burdens to various degrees, but California’s clean energy future can provide the opportunity to address many burdens at once. 

I have spent the summer working in the Office of Vice Chair Siva Gunda, who is the lead commissioner on the 2022 update of the Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) and the commission’s equity efforts. This led me to my summer projects which were specifically focused on the equity track of this year’s IEPR. This report provides background and recommendations on various topics related to California’s energy system, and sets the tone for future energy policy. I was tasked with developing an internal equity framework in collaboration with the public advisor’s office. The literature review of existing environmental justice frameworks and the drafting of our own equity framework helped me more deeply understand what it looks like to apply environmental justice principles within an established system such as the CEC. I also contributed to the revitalization of the Energy Equity Indicators project in collaboration with the energy assessments division. I helped research existing work on equity indicators and metrics and collaborated on a project proposal for this iteration of Energy Equity Indicators.

Some of the most meaningful experiences of my fellowship happened during the IEPR workshops and regional visits in Imperial County and Kern County, as well as tribal engagement sessions. The workshops were focused on energy equity and workforce development, and were held outside of Sacramento to improve public access and add a layer of context for the CEC team. It was helpful to hear directly from members of the community about their relationship with our energy system, and even experience the level of heat these regions feel while we were out for community engagement sessions. Additionally, the tribal engagement sessions allowed me to understand the specific and intentional ways that state agencies must involve Native nations in conversations and decisions about a clean energy future. These visits contextualized the tangible impacts CEC policies and programs have on tribes and communities already, but also the kinds of impacts they could have in the future. The community listening sessions also inspired a greater focus of the equity framework on removing barriers to participation, increasing community engagement, and considering the intersectionality of overlapping issues many communities face. 

I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to participate in true community engagement, learn from community-based organizations, listen to tribal perspectives, and develop lasting relationships with my mentors at CEC. This experience has inspired me to find ways to integrate equity into all of my work as well as pursue public service at some point in my career.

 

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