Leone, B., Adams, J., Kenner, A., Morgan, S., Rosenthal, A. (2020, Dec. 16). "Energy in COVID-19 Research Brief: November 2020." Energy in COVID-19. The Energy Vulnerability Project. Platform for Experimental and Collaborative Ethnography. Retrieved from http://housingenergy.info/content/energy-covid-19-research-brief-novembe...
The image here shown was published on the Instagram page of the Philadelphia Reparations group Coalition for Black Trans Liberation (CBTL), which provides reparations to Black LGBTQIA+ people in Philadelphia. CBTL posts a series of links in their bio to assistance funds of Black LGBTQIA+ individuals in need of assistance. The group was created to provide solidarity to Black LGBTQIA+ communities (economic, physical, material). During this time of crisis, the group continues to institute funds to help struggling members of the Black LGBTQIA+ communities. CBTL’sInstagram page is where you may find information to contact them if you are in need. Through their page you can make contributions and volunteer to help them get the world out. Funds range from medical assistance bills, to housing and food funds, to utility funds as shown above. This form of mutual aid (requests for funds that are disseminated on social media platforms) has become widespread in recent years, and has become especially prevalent as a result of COVID-19, as meeting basic needs becomes more difficult for vulnerable populations, and as time spent on social media increases. Given the economic precarity faced by families across the United States it is important to highlight flashpoints of solidarity across communities, like in Philadelphia, and it is important that groups like CBTL continue to showcase support for vulnerable communities through the creation of relief funds.
Moratorium on utility bills meant families could worry about one less economic stressor during the pandemic besides rent, food, loans, etc (Read, 2020). However, people like Chelsie DeSouza were sorely impacted when their bills were sent home after the Pennsylvania PUC voted to end the moratorium on Nov 9 (Read, 2020). Feelings of anxiety overwhelm customers whose bills are now extensively past-due and especially as utilities send them an email or paper notices of these amounts. Unemployment and COVID-19-related illness, however, make it difficult for hundreds of thousands of families to repay what is owed to utilities, even for ones who have been making consistent payments (Read, 2020). Regulated utility companies have hundreds of thousands of customers falling behind on their bills and risking disconnection, but the figure of customers struggling to keep up with their bills under unregulated companies is unknown, which is highly worrisome as winter approaches (Read, 2020). By law those who earn at or below 300% of the poverty line are entitled to assistance and companies are required to inform their customers of said assistance, which is why PECO has launched many assistance and relief programs, the latter allowing customers to have payment plans without interests (Read, 2020). However, people continue to be unaware of the protections that exist against disconnections and customer-company communication continues to remain unclear. Once again, public discourse focuses on the extreme difficulties COVID-19 has created and reinforced for vulnerable populations (LMI** and BIPOC** communities especially), even thrusting those with not insignificant earnings into financial precarity. The situation is very dire and Community Legal Services filed a petition to the Pennsylvania PUC to clarify what requirements need to be met by customers in order to be protected from disconnections (Read, 2020). Utility hardship funds have also been instituted outside utility companies to help those who qualify to pay their bills (Read, 2020). It is particularly significant that utility insecurity and economic adversity continue to dominate public discourses as it shows attention to the economic unraveling COVID-19 has brought upon United States communities, especially given economic security also guarantees safe home living and safe home sheltering can protect against COVID-19 infection.
**LMI= Low-to-Middle Income; BIPOC= Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; PECO= Philadelphia Electricity Company; PUC= Public Utility Commission.
Continuing on the discussions of hardships faced by communities in the United States, the article here linked presents a more holistic narrative of the issues that can go alongside the digital divide. The article touches the topic of the digital divide tangentially, illustrating how residents of homeless shelters are not only burdened by their housing and employment conditions but also by unreliable internet connections. The article shows how people living in shelters are alienated in the most basic aspects of life, especially now in their schooling conditions due to increased need for stable internet connection. The article itself follows the daily routine of B.J., an 11-year-old child, his sister Renee, and their father Benjamin. The family had to move into a shelter after Benjamin lost his job and then his housing when his sister moved to Florida. Living in the shelter is also dictated by space and internet sharing. Benjamin and B.J. have to ‘ration’ their internet usage, as well as their internet space, given that the shelter only has a limited number of spaces in which the connection is stable enough to navigate on the Internet. Even though the City has promised to secure either a wired internet connection or a mobile hotspot for those Philadelphians without connection, Benjamin has not been able to secure either, given the City was always short on supplies when he requested a hotspot. The pandemic has also added layers of ‘rationing’ that needs to be done in the shelter, mainly as members of the shelter need to continue following social-distancing rules. The foregoing also means B.J. cannot have guests over, nor can he go to friends’ houses for help or simply to spend time together. Additionally, B.J. and Renee's school attendance continues to be inconsistent as they have to leave the shelter with their father when he has doctors’ appointments given children cannot be left alone in the shelter.
With the pandemic still ongoing, families continue to struggle economically. Utility companies, including internet companies, have been pushing for price increases since prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. Comcast-Xfinity is planning to do so as well, increasing prices for every customer, across the board, in the 39 states in which it services (Moon, 2020). Other major changes include data caps for all customers and charges of $10 per extra fifty gigabytes used by their customers (Moon, 2020). At a time when the pandemic continues to worsen people’s economic conditions, price increases on the part of utilities like Comcast have the potential to seriously endanger people’s abilities to not only pay for utilities but also to work or school remotely. Hence, the foregoing should also be seen in the light of people’s life routines and the ability to continue working, even in remote settings. Essentially, actions like the ones being taken by Comcast-Xfinity further exacerbate the already precarious conditions of many families in the United States.
While many have been pushing for green energy and reduced utility prices, movements by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seem to be pushing green energy movements to the side as they make zero-carbon emission sources less competitive, increase fossil fuel use and energy prices. The commission is trying to roll back on green-energy agreements, which would invalidate the work done over the last decade to slow down climate change. Vulnerable communities in the United States are usually exposed to higher rates of air pollution and have higher incidences of respiratory illnesses and morbidities. The commission’s move to prioritize fossil fuel production would further endanger vulnerable communities and their health.
With moves from the commission to prioritize fossil fuel production vulnerable communities already exposed to air pollution, higher respiratory illnesses and burdened by lower incomes and higher morbidities, rolling back on environmental protections would endanger these communities and their health. As the news throughout the pandemic has focused on communities’ vulnerabilities, (utility, health, and economic), this article calls for revision of energy access, clean energy, and energy rights. This research group has focused on addressing energy rights, which may or may not include access to energy and clean energy. Regressive policies only work to harm those communities who are least likely to have a voice in the energy landscapes and it should be in everyone’s interest to protect green energy transitions, as well as protecting communities most ridden by repercussions of fossil-fuel energy productions.
This article documents the bailouts awarded to fossil fuel industries under the Trump administration. Formally withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the Trump administration paved the way for continued financial support of fossil fuel-based energy systems. Public Citizen, Bailout Watch, and Fridens of the Earth compiled the report here linked, which provides more detail on ways in which the EPA is rolling back on environmental protections. Among the justifications used to support these rollbacks representatives of the fossil fuel industry state these new policies are meant to help the raving unemployment rates and financial distress and to move towards post-pandemic recovery. The administration managed $15 billion dollars in direct benefits to the companies and a total of $110 billion dollars in bond issuances. These benefits were reaped by more than 26,000 companies. However, as is pointed in both the report and in the artifact’s commentary, the fossil-fuel industry was already beginning to fail prior to the pandemic; bailouts will not be enough to stimulate recovery. The United States continues to not acknowledge how beneficial it would be to invest the same amounts into transitions to green energy. Additionally, with many states having more than $170 million in overdue utility bills the government should really focus on bailing out customers, prioritizing the implementation of climate risk contingency plans, and effecting energy rights.
In the ongoing pandemic, energy discussions continue to interest many groups, from civil to political communities. Given the shift in energy burdens to the residential sector have become even more significant than previous residential energy consumption, Philadelphia’s energy efficiency policy brings ahead plans to achieve the 2050 sustainability project of the city. In this brief article, Hayley Jordan from the Office of Sustainability, details how the city’s energy efficiency policy could lead to a more than a significant decrease in energy expenditure (Jordan, 2020). If the policy is applied correctly, implementing energy-efficient systems in the residential sector of the city could improve energy consumption equaling to 40,000 cars being taken off the road (Jordan, 2020). Why is this important? Beyond allowing for reduced energy output, such a reduction in energy use and demand could also reduce production. It follows that reducing energy demand then reduces the underlying greenhouse gas and other polluting elements that harm more vulnerable communities. Other cities should take on similar initiatives to both attain greener energy systems and to reduce communities’ energy vulnerabilities.
In other energy news, companies like PECO have justified the use of smart-meters as green energy systems. That said, recent events have brought a re-evaluation of how companies in Pennsylvania have implemented smart meters in their customers’ homes. Pennsylvania utilities have been using wireless smart meters, to prevent utility workers from going into homes to install the meters, but these procedures have been nullified by one of the state’s lower courts. After the State’s Highest Court took on the review of this decision it actually favored the customer’s choice for the installation of the meters. The Court also ruled in favor of customer choice given the 2008 policy did not include an ‘opt-out’ option and, thus, the Court considered cases filed by customers who experienced health issues with the meters emitting the sound frequencies. Customers had reported feeling ill from exposure to the wireless meters’ frequency, which adds layers of health vulnerability customers experience with energy systems.
The articles collected in the November research brief discuss dimensions of energy systems covered in the news. Past research briefs, released as the pandemic emerged and persisted, demonstrate a continuity in public discourse discussions of utility insecurity. The current research brief also showcases artifacts on utility hardships experienced across the nation’s communities, demonstrating the continued socio-economic distress the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted. This research brief presents a community-funded utilities fund flyer, accompanied by commentary; an article on families in the United States facing utility shutoffs, and another article focused on price increases from Comcast-Xfinity. This research brief also presents several articles that discuss recent energy policies and changes to existing policy, as well as analytic discussions on the benefits of green energy transitions. Overall, the focus of the the articles rests in discussions of pandemic hardship and related assistance, green energy policies, and the benefits of the transitions to green energy. The information presented ahead can also be interpreted through the analyses on clean energy done by Hickel (2019), Howe (2019), Boyer (2019), and Dagget (2020), analyses held in the ‘Further Reading’ section.
NextEra is a Floridian utility company that has recently moved to invest in solar, slightly surpassing Exxon Mobile (largely due to the company's gradual disinvestment in the renewable sector). Renewable energy transitions have been a consistent topic of discussion in energy news throughout the past year. This energy group has taken up investigations into vulnerable communities and their likelihood of acquiring energy-efficient and zero-emissions technology and home energy systems. The article here discusses the company's initial reluctance to move to renewable energy, but it details how the company has more recently taken advantage of county, state, and federal grants, as well as tax breaks given to investors in the renewable energy sector to venture in the solar energy field. The article goes on to discuss the way in which NextEra has progressively monopolized solar energy transitions in Florida. The foregoing is particularly significant to discussions of vulnerabilities faced by LMI and BIPOC communities who cannot afford the current energy systems, let alone zero-emissions energy systems that are installed by a monopolizing and profit-seeking company. When analyzing the information presented in this article, considerations should be made to the following concepts: energy vulnerability, energy rights, utility insecurity. Green energy, energy transitions, and utility insecurities have been dominant and consistent themes of discussion in energy news.
On a more positive note, this article discusses how green energy transitions are allowing many who are losing their employment in the fossil fuel industry to find positions in the green energy industry. Texas, both a fossil fuel state and a green energy prime actor, has seen its employment positions in the green sector rise by 230,000. The pandemic has slowed down the growth rate of the green sector in the state, but green energy projects are still plentiful. In fact, Texas’ pipeline projects mostly involve the varied use of wind, solar, and renewable energy storage. Experts judge transitions to green energy as the best possible solution if we wish to continue with our current energy expenditures. However, energy transitions can exacerbate the already existing problems with current energy environments. Moving to green-energy-based systems doesn’t necessarily mean vulnerabilities and inequalities in energy production and distribution won’t be recreated or aggravated, as other scholars have pointed to (Hickel 2019, Howe 2019, Boyer 2019, Dagget 2020). Additionally, much like the creation of fossil-fuel industrial cities, there are those who are not content with renewable projects in Texas. We cannot succeed in our mission to zero-emissions energy systems if we do not also make alterations to the principles and structures of our current energy systems.
Baker, D. R., Freitas, G. Jr., and Natter, A. (2020, Dec. 3). America’s Greenest Energy Giant Isn’t Trying to Save the Planet. Bloomberg Green. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-12-03/nextera-nee-the-green...
Graham, K. A. (2020, December 07). 3 people, 200 square feet: Managing homelessness, remote school, and life in a pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.inquirer.com/education/virtual-education-wifi-homeless-shelt..
Guest Commentary. (2020, Dec 4). Former EPA Chief: It’s Time for States to Determine Their Own Clean Energy Futures. Maryland Matters. Retrieved from https://www.marylandmatters.org/2020/12/04/former-epa-chief-its-time-for...
Jordan, H. (2020, Nov. 27). "Philadelphia Building Energy Performance Policy Goes Into Effect." City of Philadelphia, Office of Sustainability. https://www.phila.gov/2020-11-27-philadelphia-building-energy-performanc…
Maykuth, A. (2020, Dec. 7). "Court ruling throws Pennsylvania smart-meter plan into turmoil." The Philadelphia Inquirer. https://www.inquirer.com/business/peco-puc-pennsylvania-commonwealth-cou...
Moon, M. (2020, Nov. 26). Comcast is hiking TV and internet prices in 2021. Retrieved from https://engt.co/2JOkzR7
Philadelphia Reparations. BlackLGBTQReparations. Retrieved from https://lnk.bio/5FxG
Read, Z. (2020, Nov. 11). “Hundreds of thousands of people face utility shutoffs as pandemic surges.” Plan Philly. Retrieved from https://whyy.org/articles/hundreds-of-thousands-of-people-face-utility-shutoffs-as-pandemic-surges/
Schnurman, M. (2020, Nov, 3). “Can Clean Energy Help Plug the Hole in the Oil Patch? ‘The Transition Is Well Underway,’ Says Advocate.” Dallas Morning News, sec. Business: Energy. https://www.dallasnews.com/business/energy/2020/11/03/can-clean-energy-help-plug-the-hole-in-the-oil-patch-the-transition-is-well-underway-says-advocate/
Wagner, Dan L., Christopher Kuveke, Alan Zibel, and Lukas Ross. 2020. “BAILED OUT & PROPPED UP: U.S. Fossil Fuel Pandemic Bailouts Climb Toward $15 Billion.” Public Citizen.