Energy Justice

Energy Justice centers on ensuring that all have a say in energy decisions and policies that impact them. It requires that all communities have reliable access to affordable, clean energy; that they do not suffer disproportionate harms from energy production and delivery systems; and that historical negative impacts from the energy system on the economic, health, and social welfare and livelihoods are taken into account. It also requires that all workers in the energy industry are supported and fairly compensated as the industry transitions to cleaner, more distributed sources of energy and that ultimately energy workers reflect the composition of the communities they serve.

Synapse is committed to providing meaningful data and analysis to support important dialogue and efforts towards an equitable distribution of energy system benefits and burdens. As energy experts, we collaborate with partners and clients to identify inequitable outcomes and develop solutions to rectify them. We apply our expertise in energy systems and processes to break down complicated economic and environmental problems and to facilitate a broader understanding of the issues involved. We describe and quantify equity impacts in energy policy and regulatory decision-making. We adapt and develop tools that capture these impacts and that facilitate participation by communities traditionally left out of regulatory conversations. 

Our work experience on behalf of public interest clients provides a solid foundation for further exploration and analysis of these topics:  

Access to Energy:

Adequate access to clean and reliable electricity, distributed energy resources, and other fuels, as well as the ability to switch energy sources. 

  • Exploring Equity in Residential Solar. Synapse conducted a first-cut statistical and geospatial analysis to explore whether access to solar photovoltaic installation varies with income, homeownership, race, and ethnicity within Massachusetts. We focused on how equitable access to solar energy impacts environmental justice communities’ ability to obtain financial and health advantages beyond the system-wide benefits.
  • Beneficial Electrification Regulatory Handbook. Synapse aided the Regulatory Assistance Project in developing a guide to help utility regulators and other policymakers adapt regulatory frameworks so their jurisdictions can enable and capture the full benefits of building electrification and associated load flexibility. Written through an equity lens, the handbook provides specific recommendations for regulators to eliminate the barriers low-income customers and underrepresented frontline communities face in accessing energy improvements and engaging meaningfully in rulemaking processes. 
  • Scoping a Future of Natural Gas Study. Synapse outlined criteria to ensure that transparency and equity underly Massachusetts utilities’ “future of gas” studies, which are required by the State as it explores the role of local gas distribution companies in helping the Commonwealth achieve its climate goals. Informed by comprehensive and transparent analyses, state agencies can develop a roadmap for rapid action on emission reductions without sacrificing equity, affordability, reliability, or quality of life for frontline communities.
  • Gas Regulation for a Decarbonized New York. Synapse prepared a sweeping analysis and developed recommendations for New York to consider as the state begins a transition away from natural gas in order to meet its ambitious carbon reduction requirements. We provided guidance for reforming gas utility regulation to increase transparency in the energy planning process with the ultimate goal of minimizing the health, environmental, and socialized connection costs associated with gas services.
  • Benefits of EV Investments. Synapse’s guidebook for consumer advocates describes how to evaluate the potential impacts of electrification of the transportation system on electric utility customers’ rates, health, and vehicle expenditures, as well as benefits to the public at large. It also suggests innovative policy solutions to help ensure that transportation electrification occurs in a manner that allows all customers, particularly low-income and other vulnerable groups, to share in the benefits while not unfairly bearing the costs.

Affordability of Energy:

Energy burden and ability to manage energy use, as affected by housing conditions, rate structures, income disparities, and other factors. 

  • EnergyWise Evaluation Study. Synapse is currently performing an evaluation of Mississippi’s EnergyWise low-income energy efficiency pilot program. As a part of the evaluation, Synapse is reviewing and analyzing costs and benefits of the program, including non-energy benefits and bill savings. Synapse is also conducting a survey of program participants and program implementers. We will document our findings in a report to support the continuation or expansion of the program.
  • Maine Low-Income Energy Burden Study.The Maine Office of the Public Advocate commissioned Synapse to report on the disparate energy burdens faced by Maine’s low-income residents. After discovering pervasive energy poverty in the state, we proposed tailored strategies for Maine to increase energy affordability, including low-income energy efficiency programs and weatherization.
  • Caught in a Fix. Synapse prepared a report for the Consumers Union that documents the current trend toward utilities proposing substantial increases in fixed electricity charges to counteract low sales (resulting from energy efficiency, distributed generation, weather, or economic downturns).  The report highlights the equity implications of rate design, exploring how fixed charges increase energy burdens for low-income, low-usage consumers and increase barriers to widespread implementation of energy efficiency and distributed generation.
  • Low-Income Assistance Strategy Review. Together with subcontractor Nancy Brockway, Synapse assisted the Ontario Energy Board in developing options for the design and implementation of a ratepayer‐funded, long‐term rate assistance program for low‐income electricity consumers.
  • Opportunities to Ramp Up Low-Income Energy Efficiency to Meet State and National Climate Policy Goals. Synapse conducted research on energy efficiency funding and the cost of saved energy to better understand the scale of the opportunity to ramp up low-income efficiency programs to meet state and national climate policy goals. We found that states with above average poverty rates can better use abundant and low-cost energy efficiency measures to reduce carbon emissions from the electric sector in a way that improves energy access and affordability for low-income customers. 

Health and Environmental Consequences of Energy: 

Health and economic impacts on vulnerable populations from pollution and climate change related to energy extraction, generation, consumption, and waste disposal.

  • Climate Change and the American Consumer (forthcoming). Synapse synthesized research on the harms to consumers from climate change, including risks to agriculture, food systems, infrastructure, and human health. The report focuses on inequitable impacts on low-income groups and communities of color. 
  • Energy Infrastructure: Sources of Inequities and Policy Solutions for Improving Community Health and Wellbeing. Synapse took a critical look at the disparate impacts of electric and natural gas infrastructure on economic, social, and health outcomes for the nation’s underserved frontline communities. We provided expert insights on policies to ensure increased transparency, improve energy access, and address the distinct health and environmental consequences of the energy sector for low-income and rural populations and communities of color.

Just Transition and Labor: 

Employment in energy and economic impacts of clean energy transition plans and policies. 

  • West Virginia's Energy Future. Synapse provided technical assistance to the West Virginia University College of Law in preparing its report on the future of West Virginia’s renewable energy economy. We modeled the likely net-positive employment impacts and avoided adverse health outcomes of a transition out of coal-dependence for the state’s rural coal communities.
  • Investing in Public Infrastructure in Massachusetts: Impacts of Investment in Clean Energy, Water, and Transportation. Synapse analyzed the employment impacts of improving energy, water, and transportation infrastructure in Massachusetts through increased state, municipal, and public investment. We analyzed the number of public-sector jobs per year that would be created by bringing public infrastructure to a state of good repair by closing the “investment gap.”

Civic Agency & Energy Democracy:

Greater participation and say in energy decision-making, more choices, and greater knowledge to increase energy self-determination and equity. 

  • New York City Consumer Choice Aggregation Feasibility Study (forthcoming). The City of New York is considering implementing Consumer Choice Aggregation (CCA), a policy that provides communities with more energy choices. Synapse is examining the impact of implementing various CCA designs on community health. We are also modeling the costs of the CCA designs by customer class, including a break-out for energy assistance program participants.
  • Brayton Point Reuse Analysis. Anticipating the 2017 Brayton Point coal power plant shut down, Synapse studied potential reuse options for the site that would restore some of the town’s tax revenues, provide clean, reliable electricity for the region, provide jobs, and help advance technological innovation. We suggested alternatives to building a new gas plant such as the Clean Energy Hub scenario to address residents’ concerns and give them agency over their energy choices, while additionally reducing pollution and other industrial burdens on the town’s waterfront and surrounding communities.