Social Science

Clean, green, and just? Community perspectives on the renewable energy transition in a New England city

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  Peer Reviewed

© attribution CC-BY

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In 2021, Massachusetts policymakers enacted a new climate law to cut carbon emissions by no less than 50% by 2030 on the way to a net zero energy system in 2050. Reaching this goal will require massive public investments in energy infrastructure, public and private efforts to make buildings and urban infrastructure more energy efficient, and shifts in personal energy consumption at the household level. We provide a case study of an environmental justice community in western Massachusetts–a mid-sized city that was an innovative industrial center fueled by hydropower and hydroelectricity from the 19th century onward, but which declined in the mid-20th century as industrial centers powered by fossil fuels drew manufacturing to regions with cheaper labor costs. Low- and middle-income and BIPOC residents of an environmental justice community have faced the challenges of deindustrialization while also organizing to protect their neighborhoods from pollution. Based on data from focus groups, informal interviews, and participant observation, we analyze community members' perspectives on energy access and use and how the transition to a low-carbon renewable energy system could affect their community in positive and negative ways.