California’s pursuit to forge collaborative relationships to benefit all communities and to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2045.
On July 20th, In order to address equity and environmental justice and to update its biennial Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR), the California Energy Commission (CEC) held a workshop for the general public at Kern County Community College District, which is situated in the center of California’s main oil-producing region.
The IEPR is a report that conducts analyses and projections for all facets of the energy sector and assists the governor’s office with developing policies. This year, the CEC wants to make a concerted effort to include low-income and underprivileged communities in the adoption and utilization of sustainable energy technologies as well as to establish a policy framework.
By instituting a regional approach, the CEC plans on covering 9 regions in California. The counties of interest this year are Imperial, Kern, and Oxnard, which are considered “disadvantaged” by the CalEnviroScreen tool which identifies communities in California that are disproportionately affected by certain forms of pollution.
With California’s ambitious initiative of achieving 100 percent renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels by 2045, Kern County, which produces 70 percent of the state’s oil and 90 percent of its natural gas, poses substantial hurdles in that transition. The county’s infrastructure is heavily reliant on the oil sector to keep its roads paved and libraries open. Although Kern County also supplies more than 50 percent of the state’s renewable energy with its expansive wind farm and second largest solar farm in the nation, it still derives most of its funding from oil.
The equity workshop began with local, state, and federal policymakers addressing the steps they need to take for the county to smoothly transition away from fossil fuels by ensuring everyone is included in the decision-making process from the beginning and by being strategic with this economic opportunity, especially with workforce development. And as Kern County Community College Chancellor Sonya explained, there is a $50 million allocation in the state budget for the district’s California Renewable Energy Center of Excellence to focus on capacity building.
One of the first local perspectives, Norma Rojas-Mora, executive director of government relations and development at Bakersfield College, began the discussion underscoring the importance of making sure the community understands the process of transitioning away from fossil fuels and not only addressing the environmental concerns but also the employment concerns.
Building on this, Shrayas Jatkar, a policy specialist at the California Workforce Development Board, explained that there will be a need for labor to clean up the oil fields and there may be some employment opportunities in that arena when it comes to covering oil wells and land restoration. However, there are no concrete plans in place for this and he made it clear that the focus should be on training workers for employment opportunities that already exist.
While pivoting off from these two points, Lori Pesante, civic engagement director for the Dolores Huerta Foundation, elaborated on the community’s deeply rooted generational distrust in policy makers due to the environmental issues they’ve dealt with like methane leaks and polluted water.
She emphasized the significance of making sure they don’t repeat their past errors and to involve the community and workers in both workforce development and policy decisions. Pesante added “those good jobs – we’ve been creating good jobs, but they don’t go to the people here in Kern” and that “the wealth we create from any economic work that we do together has to stay here.”
As oil is the number one industry in Kern County and a significant source of overall employment, there is no single job replacement since refineries pay very well and the transition in lower paying industries is not seamless U.S. Department of Energy Senior Advisor Betony Jones commented. Jones noted many oil refinery workers learn on the job and training is not well documented, leading to complications in the transition to renewable energy employment opportunities.
She suggested transferring these workers into the EV vehicle manufacturing sector because their skills are transferable, but Dave Teasdale, executive director of the Economic and Workforce Development Programs at Kern Community College District, chimed in to point out that while the current workforce has a wealth of experience, they also need to be trained in new skills such as electric motors instead of internal combustion engines and how regenerative braking works. For completely entry level folks, the training will require a more comprehensive approach and will take much longer as you have to teach them about the whole car.
The workshop concluded with CEC Vice Chair Siva Gunda inquiring if the participants were optimistic in their endeavor to transition the power grid. There are some setbacks such as electric vehicles demand remains lower in Kern County compared to its neighbors, but for the most part the panelists expressed optimism in this ambitious pursuit with how much progress has already been made in a short time frame.
The CEC will be hosting public workshops in August through December and will be accepting written comments on this workshop until August 10th.