New Funding and Formation of Rural Regional Energy Network Offers Energy Efficiency Programs to California’s Underserved Communities
High Sierra Energy Foundation will be implementing programs in Inyo and Mono counties
MAMMOTH LAKES, CA, July 17, 2023 — The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), on June 29, 2023, approved the formation of a Rural Regional Energy Network (RuralREN) to expand access to energy efficiency services for customers and communities in rural areas, comprising nearly half the state. Starting in January 2024, a seven-member partnership, including the High Sierra Energy Foundation, encompassing public and non-profit agencies with decades of experience implementing programs in their regions, will collaborate on programs funded by an eight-year investment of more than $177 million allocated to underserved areas.
The RuralREN will bring energy efficiency programs to underserved and hard-to-reach public, commercial, and residential customers in 31 rural California counties, which include 66 Federally recognized California Native American Tribal Governments. In collaboration with program administrator Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), member organizations will serve more than seven million customers, or 18% of California’s population, spanning over 70,000 square miles.
“The formation of the RuralREN will allow local entities that know their communities and unique characteristics and obstacles, such as climate zones, languages spoken and socioeconomics, to design and implement programs tailored to the distinctive needs of local ratepayers,” said Pam Close Bold, Executive Director of the High Sierra Energy Foundation (HSEF). “Past ratepayer-funded programs didn’t always equitably serve rural and hard-to-reach customers in our region and a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work.”
Approval of the RuralREN is part of a larger investment in energy efficiency as a foundational element of the CPUC’s energy, environmental, and social justice policies to increase equitable access to energy efficiency programs for all Californians served by CPUC-regulated entities. “Our decision continues California’s decades-long commitment to pursuing energy efficiency as the first and best choice for energy procurement,” said Commissioner Darcie L. Houck in a CPUC press release on the milestone investment. “I am particularly enthusiastic about the creation of the Rural Regional Energy Network, which will fill an essential gap in delivering energy efficiency upgrades and training to rural communities across the state.”
Energy efficiency is an integral part of meeting California’s aggressive decarbonization policies and goals to combat climate change, yet the most vulnerable of utility customers often do not have equitable access to utility energy efficiency programs in which they pay into every month. In fact, the average energy burden in the RuralREN region is 45% higher than the rest of California. The availability of newly funded and locally-implemented programs will help customers access financing options for energy projects, workforce education and training, energy codes and standards training, as well as energy assessments, rebates and incentives for cleaner, energy efficient equipment.
RuralREN member organizations include the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments and County of San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast; the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization in the San Joaquin Valley; the High Sierra Energy Foundation and Sierra Business Council in the Sierra Nevada region and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) in the North Coast, in partnership with the Lake Area Planning Council and Mendocino Council of Governments. The County of Ventura is a non-implementing member of the RuralREN leadership team.
The genesis of this effort goes back to 2015 with the formation of the Rural Hard-to-Reach (RHTR) Working Group, which in 2019 voted to form the RuralREN with RCEA as program administrator. “RCEA’s selection to head this effort to equitably deliver energy efficiency programs to rural regions of California demonstrates the innovative thinking and leadership inherent to Humboldt County,” said Stephen Kullmann, Director of Demand Side Management at RCEA. “By focusing on the rural hard-to reach sector across the entire state and leveraging the expertise of the RuralREN partners, we will be able to provide services to often-overlooked segments. Rural ratepayers deserve the same level of service as those in more densely populated areas, even if it requires greater effort. The RuralREN is created to fulfill that need.”
According to Rick Phelps, HSEF’s Chairperson, “It has been the foundation’s goal since 2005 to better align programs with local needs and this is a significant shift in the CPUC’s direction away from programs being designed and implemented by the large investor-owned utilities. The Town of Mammoth Lakes, City of Bishop and Inyo and Mono counties all provided letters of support for the business plan and the programs and services developed by the RuralREN will raise awareness about energy efficiency, provide energy efficiency services to our residents and businesses and provide transformative career training that leads to clean energy job opportunities.”
About High Sierra Energy Foundation
The HSEF’s mission is to promote the culture of energy efficiency and sustainability in the Eastern Sierra. The organization is an implementing agency of the newly formed RuralREN, is a regional partner for the SoCalREN for public agency and multifamily programs, provides energy-related outreach for statewide and utility programs, delivers environmental youth education, and implements the Eastern Sierra Green Business Program. Learn more at highsierraenergy.org