SIT Climate Change alum targets electricity grid inequity

May 9th, 2023   |   Careers, SIT Graduate Institute

System has harmed communities of color for more than a century, says Colin Byers

Colin Byers, a 2019 alumnus of SIT's MA in Climate Change & Global Sustainability, has contributed to a groundbreaking document aimed at making part of the U.S. electric grid more equitable.

Byers was among a group of community and environmental justice leaders, electric grid analysts, and labor representatives who released “Equitable Grid Principles,” which are intended to guide electric grid infrastructure decision-making in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) region, according to a May 2 announcement from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“The clean energy revolution is an exciting opportunity to transform an electricity system that has burdened and harmed communities of color, Indigenous Peoples, and low-income communities for over a century,” said Byers, who is senior campaign coordinator at UCS. “As stakeholders work to get renewable energy online quickly, it’s key that equity and justice are front and center. If done correctly, the transition to 100 percent renewable energy could dramatically improve the quality of life for generations to come.”

The principles provide guidance to grid infrastructure stakeholders for equitable transmission planning, the public utility commission processes, and other decision-making processes. When implemented, they are aimed at improving health, creating good local jobs, providing financial benefits, and avoiding additional burdens on communities already impacted by environmental health hazards, according to the UCS statement.

The Equitable Grid Principles include:

Indigenous Rights. All equitable grid planning processes must engage with affected Indigenous Peoples and communities from the earliest stages.

Accountable Decisionmaking. Grid infrastructure decision-making should establish and utilize a robust accountability system.

Accessibility and Procedural Justice. Electric grid decision-making bodies such as MISO and state utility commissions must be accessible to impacted communities and the public.

Community Control and Governance. Grid infrastructure must be planned and implemented in collaboration with Black, Indigenous, and people of color; and front line, low-income, and impacted communities using processes that support and encourage meaningful, broad-based, and community-based public participation, as well as community-driven development.

Local Control and Value. Grid planning processes and their resulting grid investment decisions should seek to maximize the value of locally controlled clean electricity, energy efficiency, and demand response resources, such as mini-grids and energy storage systems.

Prioritize Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Prioritize grid infrastructure that enables the retirement of coal, gas, and other polluting electricity facilities and supports clean, renewable power—including wind and solar—and energy efficiency.

Justly Sourced. Sourcing of materials and development of grid infrastructure must be done in a manner that mitigates long-term destructive environmental and social impacts.

Support Workers Rights and Protections. Workers engaged in modernizing our grid infrastructure should have access to safe, high-quality, well-paying jobs.

Climate Resilient. Grid planning processes and investment decisions pertaining to them must address overall system resilience under a broad range of plausible scenarios, including historic extreme weather case studies.

The principles were developed by The Equitable Grid Cohort, a group of representatives from Alliance for Affordable Energy, Clear RTO Path, CURE Minnesota, Communities Organizing Latino Power and Action, Cooperative Energy Futures, Environmental Justice Coalition, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Soulardarity, Taproot Earth, UCS and Vote Solar.