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Advancing Equitable Building Electrification: Insights from the 15th Annual California Climate and Energy Conference

Workshop discussion.

The California Climate and Energy Conference hosted its 15th annual forum in Palm Springs from June 24-25, 2024, with over 400 attendees from across the state. This year's theme was "Collective Innovation: Cultivating Collaboration for Equitable Climate Action." The forum focused on exploring innovative ideas, best practices for collaboration, increasing accessibility for disadvantaged communities, and implementing climate action across various sectors. For the BayREN team, it provided an opportunity to workshop ideas that advance building electrification.

On the second day of the conference, BayREN members from San Mateo County and Contra Costa County hosted the “Jumpstart Workshop: Scaling an Equitable Transition to All-Electric Neighborhoods.” Local governments are tasked with achieving aggressive climate goals, with one of the key areas being building energy efficiency and electrification. The workshop facilitated small group discussions on barriers and opportunities for equitable neighborhood electrification, centered around two key questions:

  1. How do you achieve equitable neighborhood electrification in very different neighborhoods?
  2. What are the challenges, costs, and benefits?

Before providing input, participants were briefed on county-specific snapshots, existing best practices, and barriers. Susan Wright, Sustainability Program Manager, provided an overview of San Mateo County, highlighting the County’s Climate Action Plan as a primary environmental policy driver. San Mateo County has advanced building electrification through key partnerships, including with local energy providers like Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE). This partnership aims to improve resident understanding of program offerings through outreach and education and by hosting focus groups to include community voices in PCE’s program development to help shape electrification on the ground. They also partner with El Concilio, a local non-profit, to assist the Spanish-speaking community through critical in-person services that address barriers to program enrollment and service access. While progress has been made, Irma Rodriguez Mitton from South Coast Sustainable shared that the County's rural population faces grid resilience challenges that are distinct from more urban parts of the County, thus requiring a different approach to equitable electrification.

Jody London, Sustainability Coordinator for Contra Costa County, shared a snapshot of the County, which is home to 1.3 million residents. Four local petroleum refineries and two landfills contribute to poor air quality and some of the highest asthma rates nationwide. In collaboration with local health networks, the County promoted energy efficiency to improve indoor air quality at home through patient referrals; however, it is facing barriers to continue this work.

By the end of the session, over 30 attendees from across the State provided insights into the challenges, costs, and opportunities to equitably transition to all-electric neighborhoods. Discussions encompassed consumer resistance, health impacts, implementation logistics, physical barriers, opportunities, and associated costs. Avana Andrade, Senior Sustainability Specialist at the County of San Mateo shared that the workshop team “intends to utilize the workshop findings to inform equitable zonal electrification pilots, support a community of practice, and guide local and State policies in the future.” This collaborative approach aims to foster continuous and cooperative dialogue about building electrification across the state.

Sign up for the BayREN newsletter to see how the information gathered will impact future pilot programs in the Bay Area: BayREN News