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Lessons Learned

Answer

Many utilities use similar tactics to fight against community-driven change. They’ve built political, social, and public relations machines that they deftly deploy against community organizers to maintain the status quo.” Community organizers and advocates can learn from one another to build power and achieve their goals: 

  • Popular education is key to building grassroots power at any time. Design visuals that lay out the basics, combat misinformation, expose inequities, and help the community articulate demands.
  • Embrace storytelling to show the real implications of utility decisions. Amplify the needs of those most impacted, weave intersecting crises together, and uplift a vision for energy democracy.
  • Expose the money trail between utilities and public officials. Show people how they are being excluded from crucial decision-making spaces to prove that exploitation by utilities is a long-term and systems-level problem.
  • Elections are a prime opportunity to fight the bad and build the good. Push back on political donations by utilities, make climate and energy accountability a campaign focus, and rally support for candidates that prioritize utility justice for the community.

Utilities are a massive, often overlooked contributor to the climate crisis.
In 2020, for example, gas- and coal-burning power plants were responsible for 32% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The largest utility companies operate their own fossil fuel infrastructure to supply these dirty power plants. Meanwhile, their profits-over-people business practices only heap harm onto the communities navigating disproportionate climate and energy-related hardships. Utilities actively champion false solutions to the climate crisis which maintain monopoly power, high customer costs, and environmental injustices. Advocates should prioritize their irresponsibility and the need for accountability to address the root causes of energy burden, climate change, and related harms.

Mutual respect, transparency, learning exchange, and adaptive collaboration are important for utility accountability coalitions to work effectively.
Utilities and regulators use highly technical vocabulary and inaccessible procedures to keep people from understanding details that matter. They diminish and deny the value of community members’ stories, which are actually the most powerful evidence and inspiration. Coalitions should prioritize all types of learned and lived expertise to build a deep bench of experts working together on utility accountability.