“Reclaim Our Power!:” The Geographies of Utility Justice in Northern California

Authors: Gabrielle Lichtenstein*, University of Georgia
Topics: Energy, Environmental Justice
Keywords: Utility Justice, electricity governance, energy geographies
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper examines how power is spatial in electricity governance, focused on two main areas: (1) the violence of PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events; and 2) how decentralized community microgrids can be developed for utility justice. I use the frameworks of racial capitalism and feminist STS to examine what aspects of our current energy system are challenged, and what new knowledges, experiences, and needs are highlighted. Using content analysis of PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events, I first analyze how state regulators and PG&E advance a notion of “public safety” that enacts violence across axes of race, ability, and class. This part of the project aims to deconstruct the white supremacist logics that undergird the current energy system. The second half of this project is forward-looking. I explore alternative energy futures through the lens of Reclaim Our Power’s concept of “utility justice,” and the role that space, or rather decentralization, plays in this vision. Specifically, I use semi-structured interviews with residents in the East Bay to examine how community microgrids can be used as a tool for utility justice. The concept of utility justice presents a radical alternative to an energy transition marshalled by the old structures of power. In view of the grid’s profound implications for the climate and the violence produced by monopoly utilities, it is urgent to explore new models for clean, equitable, resilient, and community-led utility structures.

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