Leading with Equity: Centering Equity across ACEEE’s Scorecards

January 22, 2021

The Problem:

Too many Americans struggle to pay energy bills, as they live in inefficient buildings and face rising transportation costs and inadequate transit options. Many low-income communities and communities of color lack easy access to adequate comprehensive programs and services from their utilities, state, or city. These historically marginalized communities are often excluded from energy planning and decision making, which perpetuates the cycle of exclusion, underinvestment, and inequitable clean energy policy and program outcomes.
Underpinning ACEEE’s 2030 goals is an organizational commitment to fostering a vibrant and equitable economy that uses energy more efficiently, reduces energy costs, and promotes the health, safety, and well-being of all. Our vision requires a people-centered approach—one that aligns people’s social and economic needs with environmental priorities. Our research and outreach reflect this imperative as we seek to advance evidence-based clean energy solutions that not only significantly reduce carbon emissions, but also advance social equity, maximize health and well-being of all people, and help ensure a just and inclusive clean energy transition. 
For over nearly 15 years, ACEEE has released numerous scorecards and other progress reports to benchmark and drive clean energy action among states, localities, and utilities. Through these efforts, we aim to identify best practices and set a high bar for identifying clean energy leaders. Even so, we can do better. To help ensure that everyone has equitable access to and benefits from clean energy investments, ACEEE—with support from the Barr Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and The JPB Foundation and in collaboration with Kinetic Communities Consulting and AEClinic—is launching our Leading with Equity Initiative.
Leading With Equity Iniative
By developing better metrics that capture progress towards equity-centered clean energy policies and programs outcomes, communities can have better data to benchmark progress, hold leaders accountable, and drive outcomes toward more equitable decarbonization for all.

This project will convene community-based organizations, advocates, and utilities to jointly define success for equitable decarbonization, and then work to embed metrics that match this definition in ACEEE’s utility, state, and city scorecards. Building on ACEEE’s utility peer working groups, we will work with utilities and program administrators to outline how their portfolios can energy equity initiative advance equitable outcomes broadly and determine what data is needed to measure the success of these offerings. We will collaborate to push the needle to develop new policy, encourage necessary data collection, and foster collaboration to achieve more-equitable decarbonization.

The Leading with Equity Initiative will launch with two concurrent and parallel advisory groups, one for community-based organizations and advocates and one for utilities and program administrators. Through a series of workshops, we aim to do the following:

  • Ensure frontline communities are represented and are helping to drive the development of a full landscape of improved equity-related metrics 
  • Better understand current utility, state, and city capacity to report data on desired metrics  
  • Generate proposed changes to each of ACEEE’s scorecards, setting the bar in a way that represents real performance on the metrics that matter most to communities. 


Interested in learning more about our equity metrics efforts and/or want to share your own recommendations around improving and expanding equity metrics for city, state, and utility decarbonization? Please complete the survey below to be kept up to date on the Initiative and ways to be involved.


What we've learned so far

With our new initiative, we will dig deeper into equity challenges and solutions, adding additional metrics to our scorecards. Our research so far has shown that too many Americans struggle every month to afford high energy bills—a problem that the COVID-19 pandemic and recession have exacerbated. Our 2016, 2018, and 2020 research on energy burdens—the percent of income spent on energy—shows that high burdens fall disproportionately on marginalized communities, particularly in areas that have been subjected to other systemic racial and environmental injustices.
ACEEE’s 2020 City Clean Energy Scorecard, which tracks the efforts of the 100 largest U.S. cities, focuses on equity by evaluating the extent to which city-led actions are informed by, and held accountable to, input from communities. Specifically, we assess the extent to which cities engage in equitable and inclusive climate and energy planning, promote inclusivity in clean energy workforce development programs, support renewable energy and energy efficiency incentives for low-income households, and foster clean, efficient transportation for low-income communities.
energy efficiency planning
This scorecard found that cities are making efforts to increase community engagement with, and clean energy investments in, low-income communities and communities of color. For example, Washington, DC, formed an equity advisory group to develop recommendations to be incorporated in its clean energy plans, and San Francisco convened a network to work with marginalized communities to establish equitable zero-emissions residential building strategies. But all cities have substantial room to ramp up their efforts.
Our 2020 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, which includes several metrics to measure equity-oriented policies, found notable state actions. For example, California, New Jersey, and Oregon have taken steps to expand programs to better meet the needs of customers with lower incomes. We evaluated the extent to which state-regulated utilities offer low-income programs, states have policies to address equitable access to public transportation, and states are establishing internal protocols and removing barriers to more-equitable policymaking, including ensuring marginalized groups are involved in policy planning. The 2020 scorecard also collected data on equity in clean energy job training and decision making. While not factored into scoring, this data is included in our State and Local Policy Database.
Our 2020 Utility Energy Efficiency Scorecard, which tracks the 52 largest investor-owned utilities in the United States by total sales, found that utilities are dedicating more of their efficiency funding (on average 10%) to low-income programs previously. As a result, average low-income program energy savings (in MWhs) increased by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018. Overall, 31 of the largest 52 utilities offer comprehensive programs for low-income customers, such as home weatherization and retrofits. Still, states and utilities can do much more to ensure that policy and program outcomes are equitable.
ACEEE’s latest report, the State Transportation Electrification Scorecard, released in February 2021, evaluates states’ achievement in providing equitable access to transportation electrification. While a handful of national leaders center equity in their plans and policies to provide incentives for electric vehicles and transit, states need to do a lot more to bring the benefits of clean transportation to marginalized communities and groups.
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