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The COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing reckoning with structural racism, and an emerging focus on justice in the clean energy transition have combined to spotlight utility disconnections and the related issues of energy access, affordability, and security. Recent empirical scholarship has demonstrated that electricity disconnections of lower-income people are relatively common, disproportionately affect people of color, and cause significant harm. This Article describes how a number of U.S. states are fashioning an emerging policy model that makes significant progress toward truly affordable and accessible electricity service for all. It also describes how these state actions are consistent with U.S. utility law and an emerging international human right to energy services.

The Article identifies state innovations in four categories that go beyond widely adopted baselinepolicies. They include policies that: establish affordability and access policy goals, provide express legal authority, and require data collection; reduce electricity demand through efficiency and renewable programs targeted to the most vulnerable; make electricity affordable, for example, through rates or credits guaranteeing affordability for particular income levels; and reduce disconnections, especially by providing help with arrears. The Article also identifies and compares the different ways states pay for these policies where necessarythrough utility rates, universal service charges, climate program revenues, taxes, or one-time windfalls. The Article concludes by identifying important policy considerations related to this emerging model.

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Ecology Law Quarterly



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