Gas Decommissioning: Community Engagement in Potential Pilot Sites
This blog post provides an overview of community engagement efforts in the Northern California portion of the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) Tactical Gas Decommissioning Project. Here, we detail our work to-date in gathering community feedback and key next steps.
Our previous blog posts detail the project’s scope, our proposed Site Selection Framework, and preliminary results in selecting pilot locations. You can access those here:
Potential Pilot Locations
As previously discussed, the project team developed and applied a proposed Site Selection Framework to identify ideal locations for tactical gas decommissioning within East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) and Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) shared service territory. A total of 11 candidate sites across Oakland, San Leandro, and Hayward passed through the Candidate Screen and Engineering Review steps in the proposed Site Selection Framework. The candidate pilot sites vary in size, including anywhere from 40-180 households and small businesses.
Although 11 locations passed through the aforementioned screens, the project team will ultimately develop deployment plans for only three pilot projects. A forthcoming blog post will detail how the project team has further refined the list of pilot locations.
Initial Community Engagement Strategy: Hyper-Local Approach
During the preliminary stages of the project, EBCE submitted a high-level community engagement plan to the CEC, per the contract requirements. In the plan, the project team indicated its preference for a hyper
-local approach to community engagement in partnership with up to three Community Based Organizations (CBOs). This strategy was based on best practices EBCE developed through work with community groups on several program offerings and was further informed by feedback from our project’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) members, environmental justice organizations, and local governments.
The project team initially intended to work with trusted community leaders who understand the unique local needs of the people and environment of selected pilot sites. EBCE, the project’s lead for community engagement, envisioned collaborating with local community organizations or community champions to inform EBCE’s overall outreach strategy and connect directly with the pilot project communities. The project team set aside resources for contracting with CBOs, seeking to ensure that local organizations were compensated for their efforts.
EBCE conducted compensated interviews with two CBOs to gather feedback on the team’s initial community engagement strategy. EBCE supplemented this effort with interviews with key members of the project’s TAC who have experience working with local communities on environmental initiatives. Taking feedback from these interviews, the project team developed and released a public Request for Proposals (RFP) to more formally engage CBO partners.
The project team designed the RFP to offer interested CBOs a high degree of flexibility and require little effort for organizations to respond. CBOs could apply to support between one and three pilot locations. The scope of work in the RFP included tasks with 190 hours of projected work per pilot site; taking place from January to June 2023. It offered up to $120,000 in total funding to support one to three CBO partners (up to $40,000 per pilot site). The primary role for CBO partners was to help develop a site-specific community outreach strategy for the community being served, help implement that strategy, and summarize the results of outreach. In addition, the RFP gave CBOs the ability to propose modifications to the scope as needed to align with their needs and capabilities. The RFP was open for approximately one month via E3’s website.
EBCE promoted this solicitation by directly communicating with CBOs through meetings and email listservs, reaching over 100 organizations. Additional follow-up emails highlighting the RFP and an informational webinar were shared with a smaller group of CBOs identified as key potential partners. Ultimately, no CBOs attended the webinar and the solicitation received zero responses.
Revised Community Engagement Plan: Two-Pronged Approach
The project team has now embraced the opportunity to meet communities where they’re at in partnership with trusted messengers, adapting to challenges, and drawing upon lessons learned. Following the solicitation, the project team decided to pursue an alternative community engagement approach for reaching local residents. Our revised community engagement plan follows a two-pronged approach that focuses on existing partnerships, events, and opportunities in the cities of Oakland and San Leandro. The team is now working with city government staff and an environmental justice consultant based in the region to gather feedback from community members. This new two-pronged approach begins with a series of public town hall events and then transitions to focus groups to dive into deeper discussions.
Educational Town Hall Events
The first step entails working to partner with city governments to host town hall events on building electrification. The City of Oakland, through the development of its “Existing Building Electrification Action Plan,” has developed relationships with and is working alongside CBOs to support community outreach efforts. The City of Oakland has already served as a partner in identifying possible pilot sites for our tactical gas decommissioning project.
The project team aims to partner closely with the City of Oakland to plan a series of town halls and community events that can combine relevant topics across existing climate initiatives. The project team also aims to host at least one town hall in partnership with the City of San Leandro. The team hopes that by working with existing efforts throughout jurisdiction, we can meet communities where they are and reduce community fatigue.
The primary intention of participating in these larger community events is to provide educational materials on building electrification, gas decommissioning, and related topics. The objective is to share information and be available to answer questions. It is also an opportunity for the project team to understand the attendees’ interest in implementing building electrification in their communities and homes. Ideally, potential focus groups participants (mentioned below) may attend these educational events to build a foundation of understanding before engaging in focus group conversations.
Supplement Town Halls with Focus Groups
The project team will partner with a regional environmental justice consultant to conduct focus groups consisting of residents and business owners from the three selected pilot sites. We plan to form six focus groups, consisting of eight to ten participants each and aim to represent the diverse characteristics of the neighborhoods where our pilot sites are located. An educational presentation on building electrification will be included followed by breakout sessions to encourage discussion.
The project team plans to use funding originally allocated for the RFP to hire a consultant to facilitate these focus groups. Compensation for attendance will also be provided. The team plans to provide the following services and incentives to encourage participation:
- Translated materials and live interpretation services in several languages
- Food/Beverage from local vendors
- Held outside of working hours (9am-5pm)
- Childcare services
The focus groups will explore perceptions and challenges around building electrification, specifically in the pilot locations. These groups present an opportunity to hear opinions, concerns, and needs from people who would be directly impacted by these projects. Ultimately, these spaces will provide a sense of the local community’s interest in electrifying their homes or businesses and potential challenges to electrification.
As an immediate priority, the project team will secure contracts and event dates before beginning to develop questions and materials for both the town hall meetings and focus groups. The team aims to report out results and lessons learned from these community engagement efforts in the summer of 2023.