Energy Justice Beyond the Wire: Exploring the Multidimensional Inequities of the Electrical Power Grid in the United States


This Perspective applies a multidimensional, whole-systems energy justice lens to the electrical power grid, conceived of as the national electricity transmission and distribution network in the United States. The electrical power grid exists primarily to provide reliable and safe energy services to anyone and everyone, and at any time of the day. It represents a massive system of physical infrastructure that most scholars treat as agnostic and inherently void of equity dimensions. But underlying the poles and wires are a complicated set of challenges that have equity implications. For example, better power lines are installed in wealthier neighborhoods; lower-income neighborhoods experience blackouts significantly more often than higher-income neighborhoods; and the siting of transmission infrastructure infringes on local communities and ecosystems. In this Perspective, we discuss the philosophical underpinnings of justice and equity, define energy justice, and discuss how the grid can cause and perpetuate four different types of inequity: demographic within social groups and communities, spatial across urban and rural locations, temporal across time, and interspecies in terms of damaging the environment. We chart these four dimensions with twelve distinct examples and provide recommendations to create a more equitable and just future grid.