Energy Equity in Atlanta: A place at the table, not on the menu

This blog was written by Amelia Shenstone, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | June 12, 2013 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Justice, Energy Policy, Utilities
Roundtable participants dig in to energy issues

In organizing circles it’s often said that if you’re not at the decision-making table, watch out — you may be on the menu. At June 10th’s Equity Matters Forum on Energy Equity, the many tables were full of folks from all over the city, who brought their diverse perspectives on economic, racial, gender, and other aspects of equity to form a vision for equitable inclusion in energy decisions.

“Energy Equity” was defined by the convening partnership as the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of the ways we produce and consume energy. The partners include SACE, Partnership for Southern Equity, GreenLaw, Georgia Watch, the Center for Sustainable Communities, the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority, and the Concerned Black Clergy of Metro Atlanta.

Community advocate Bobby Green asks a question for the panel (with Dwayne Patterson of Partnership for Southern Equity).

Too many people don’t know how energy decisions are made until it’s too late — they’re already paying for an expensive nuclear plant on their utility bills, they can’t find financing help with solar panels or home efficiency upgrades, and the 50-year-old coal fired plant next door continues to spew air and water pollution. Some communities, particularly low income, elderly, and communities of color, are more likely to bear the brunt of these burdens — and they’re also more vulnerable to the extreme weather events predicted to increase due to climate change. For too long, these communities haven’t been at the table often enough when it comes to energy decisions.

Keynote speaker Barbara Hale with panel facilitator MaKara Rumley, Environmental Justice Attorney at Greenlaw

The Forum served as an introduction to both the ways energy effects us, through our bills, air and water pollution, and local economic development, as well as the ways the public can engage in the decision-making process. In Georgia, decisions affecting Georgia Power, the largest utility in the state, are made at the Public Service Commission, an elected body most people at the Forum acknowledged they weren’t familiar with.

Utility expert Barbara Hale traveled across the country to kick the Forum off by sharing a positive vision for energy equity. She works for San Francisco’s city utility and spoke about how committed citizen coalitions successfully shut down the city’s two fossil-fueled power plants, developed a clean energy alternative utility, and instituted a community benefits program at the utility.

Four panelists, including myself, responded to Barbara’s keynote, and brought in our own perspective. I was honored to sit alongside (from left to right in photo on right):

  • Ron Shipman, Georgia Power’s VP of Environmental Affairs
  • Dr. Joyce Dorsey, CEO of the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority
  • Dr. Marilyn Brown, Professor of Public Policy at Georgia Tech and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley delivers the closing charge to take action

After the panel, the real work began: tables of participants addressed the three discussion questions below. Their responses were reported back at the event and collected to inform future conversations and action. What do you think? Please use the comments section below to share!

  • What are areas that you think could be strengthened (both private and public) to help increase equity in energy through power generation, transmission and distribution, including workforce development?
  • How could energy equity be used to sustain a healthy and competitive Atlanta now and for future generations?
  • Describe the ideal model for enhancing authentic community engagement at the Public Service Commission?

The Forum was just the beginning conversation and dialogue of a larger movement to re-engage the public in energy decisions. The new collaborative is forming a vision recognizing that energy affects all of us, and all of us have an opportunity and a responsibility to affect our society’s energy choices.

Finally, remember that there’s a great opportunity for all Georgia citizens to speak their minds at the PSC next Tuesday at the final hearing to review Georgia Power’s long-term plan (Integrated Resource Plan or IRP). Planning to come? Please let me know!

All photos by Erik Voss. To see a gallery of his fantastic photos from the event click here

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