Justice implications of clean energy policies and programs in the United States: A theoretical and empirical exploration

Shan Zhou, Michigan Technological University
Douglas S. Noonan, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.3390/su11030807


This paper offers both theoretical and empirical analyses to explore energy justice from a policy perspective. We first propose a framework that explicitly connects core functions of clean energy policy instruments (i.e., regulation, financial incentive, government provision, information, and education program) to philosophical groundings of energy justice—distributive, procedural, and recognition justice. To empirically explore distributive energy justice, we examine the racial and socioeconomic disparities in three government-driven clean energy programs in the United States, including (1) the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) smart-grid investment grant (SGIG); (2) utility smart-meter roll out programs; and (3) city government adoption of green buildings. Results showed that the amount of ARRA funding awarded to utilities was closely related to racial composition. Inequalities were also found in utility smart-meter programs. Utilities operating in communities with a larger Hispanic population were less likely to initiate smart-meter roll out. The intensity of smart-meter technology implementation was positively correlated with education levels. Our third empirical case showed that government procurement policy can improve distributive equity for energy-efficient buildings. However, its spillover effects on the private sector can result in more adoptions in areas with fewer minorities and more highly-educated residents.