California’s pursuit to forge collaborative relationships to benefit all communities and to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2045.
By Vanessa Dailey
(Windmill farm in Kern County, CA. Photo by Brian Wangenheim onUnsplash)
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 CalEnviroScreentool 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.