The Urban Energy Justice Lab at the School for Environment and Sustainability has announced a new program aimed at measuring whether clean energy programs are being distributed equitably to those who need them most.

The Energy Equity Project — a partnership among SEAS and the Energy and Joyce foundations — will create the first standardized tool for collecting and tracking data to improve equity in clean energy policies, programs and investments. The tool will measure how easy it is to access clean energy services in frontline and Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities burdened by disproportionately high energy costs and pollution.

Energy equity relates to how accessible and affordable the energy supply is across a population. Energy equity can be measured by the energy burden of its residents, which is the percentage of a household’s income spent on electric, gas or other power utilities. Lower incomes, less efficient housing and limited access to energy efficiency programs result in higher energy burdens for BIPOC and frontline communities.

One of the key goals of the tool, called the Equity Measurement Framework, is to measurably improve the clean energy benefits that BIPOC and frontline communities receive, including lower energy bills, cleaner air, green jobs, resilience to climate impacts and power outages, and ownership of renewable energy systems and electric vehicles.

“There’s a big transparency issue where it’s easy for utilities or regulators to say they’re incorporating equity into their programs or that equity is a priority, without having any teeth behind those commitments,” said Tony Reames, principal investigator of the project, assistant professor of energy justice at SEAS and director of the Urban Energy Justice Lab. “This tool will help us evaluate whether they are hitting the mark or not.”

The Equity Measurement Framework comes at a critical time, given the Biden administration’s increasing focus on environmental justice. The project will dovetail with the administration’s Justice40 Initiative, which pledges to deliver 40 percent of climate investment benefits, including weatherization, retrofits and renewable energy, to disadvantaged communities.

A beta version of the Equity Measurement Framework is set to launch in early 2022. Envisioned as an “off the shelf” guide, the framework will consist of a set of text documents, spreadsheets and an interactive website with user support provided via phone and email.

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