As more governments and utilities focus on evolving clean transportation and sustainable energy solutions beyond early adopters to low-income, disadvantaged, rural and tribal communities, effective two-way communication with these communities will be critical to program success. One way to raise awareness of program benefits and ensure these communities’ challenges and experiences are reflected in program design is to enlist the aid of community-based organizations (CBOs).
CBOs are trusted sources of information in the communities they serve. They are experts in what their communities need and prioritize, and their deep knowledge of historical and cultural contexts allows them to share information in ways that connect and resonate.
Just as any expert consultant should be compensated for their time, so should CBOs.
Here are a few compensation models for states, local governments and utilities to consider when seeking the expertise of CBOs.
1. Incorporate CBOs in program budgets
In administering California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP), the nation’s largest electric vehicle (EV) incentive program that concluded its 14-year run in November 2023, the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) convened and managed a Community Partner Network of over 30 funded CBOs across the state.
These CBOs were contracted to conduct outreach and education in their respective communities by delivering information on EVs, charging infrastructure and how various incentives could be combined to make a new EV more affordable to buy or lease. They also assisted community members with completing rebate paperwork and the application process.
CVRP provided over $475 million (158,000+ rebates) for Increased Rebates to low- to moderate-income car buyers or for rebates to those living in disadvantaged or low-income communities.
Funds for the Community Partner Network were approved by the California Air Resources Board and set aside in the program’s administrative budget to ensure the continuous involvement of CBOs. The resulting capacity-building support CBOs received has empowered them to become EV experts and advocates in their communities.
2. Consider a paid advisory council
Another state program that CSE helps administer – the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) Program – has incorporated CBO participation since its launch in 2019. SOMAH, directed by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), provides incentives for solar installations on multifamily residential properties in low‐income and disadvantaged communities or owned by tribes or public housing authorities/agencies. The program also includes job training and tenant outreach requirements.
SOMAH seeks out CBO partners to provide guidance on program design and implementation, along with direct outreach to tenants, job seekers and others in their communities. These organizations also help connect the SOMAH administrative team to local governmental entities to help promote the program to their constituents.
For CBOs that lack the capacity to participate as an outreach partner but want to contribute to program development and implementation, SOMAH has an advisory council. An independent selection committee reviews applications and selects 11 council members representing organizations involved in environmental justice, affordable housing, tenants, labor and workforce development, tribal communities, government and industries related to solar adoption. Council members receive a stipend for each quarterly meeting along with travel expenses when attending in-person meetings.
3. Explore public participation and capacity-building grants
The CPUC has ongoing efforts to include the needs and priorities of disadvantaged, low-income and underrepresented communities in its policy decision-making processes.
For entities that are formal parties to certain proceedings and have substantially contributed to those proceedings, the CPUC offers a ratepayer-funded Intervenor Compensation Program to cover reasonable costs, such as attorney and advocate fees and travel expenses. However, receiving compensation is not guaranteed and can take years. This timeline is often unworkable for CBOs with limited operational budgets for work outside their grant-funded programs and initiatives.
To help remove financial and capacity-based barriers to participation, the California Legislature appropriated $30 million in 2022 from the state’s general funds for capacity grants to CBOs and tribes to engage in CPUC decision-making processes and supporting activities. After incorporating feedback from public workshops and meetings with community stakeholders, including those from underrepresented communities, the Equity and Access Grant Program launched in July 2023.
The less restrictive nature of how these general funds can be spent, in comparison to the ratepayer funds for the Intervenor Compensation Program, allows for a more accessible and streamlined application process. Activities eligible for compensation include, but are not limited to, participating in a working group or panel, educating consumers or performing outreach on a CPUC matter, or helping communities access certain energy programs. CBOs can now build their capacity to engage with the CPUC on community-identified needs while getting compensated for their work.
4. Try a pilot project
Another CPUC compensation initiative involves the California Energy Efficiency Coordinating Committee (CAEECC), a stakeholder forum that provides a venue to discuss energy efficiency programs under the CPUC’s purview. As a member of CAEECC’s Composition, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group, CSE championed the need to compensate CBOs to ensure the voices of Environmental and Social Justice (ESJ) communities are part of CAEECC deliberations. The working group recommended a task force to develop a pilot program to compensate community members’ participation in a new, more diverse working group and to identify a pilot funding source.
The result is the Evolving CAEECC Working Group and the Compensation Pilot launching concurrently in mid-2023. The pilot is funded by unspent and uncommitted energy efficiency funds from certain energy efficiency programs administered by the investor-owned utilities, three of the state’s Regional Energy Networks and Marin Clean Energy, a community choice aggregator. Pilot participants include representatives of CBOs located in or serving ESJ communities and community leaders unaffiliated with any organization. Many have no previous engagement with CAEECC or any energy efficiency expertise. This demonstrates the importance of compensating CBOs and individuals for their lived/living experiences to ensure underrepresented voices are part of CAEECC deliberations.
The Mid-Pilot Evaluation Report for the Compensation Pilot outlines lessons learned on the recruitment and application process, the grantee experience and the administration of the pilot to inform future efforts.
Compensate organizations for their community expertise
Compensating CBOs for their time and expertise demonstrates the commitment of states, local governments and utilities to understanding and including communities’ needs and priorities in their policies and programs. It shows they are being intentional about integrating equity, which helps build trust with low-income, disadvantaged, rural and tribal communities.