Reimagining Community Benefits Plans at the Department of Energy
Introduction and Summary
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is committed to advancing the clean energy economy by providing grants and loans for critical mineral extraction, electric vehicle battery manufacturing, and clean energy generation and storage. To ensure that these projects benefit rural communities, the DOE has implemented a community benefits plan (CBP) requirement. The CBP aims to achieve multiple policy goals, including reducing carbon emissions, creating jobs, addressing environmental justice, and building equitable economies. The Center for American Progress believes that tracking and evaluating CBPs is crucial in improving guidance, engagement, and outcomes for future funding opportunities.
Early Lessons and Policy Development
During interviews with companies, agency staff, and community development experts, several areas for intentional policy development were identified. Firstly, the tight application timelines for CBPs limit companies’ ability to build relationships and engage with communities. To overcome this challenge, building capacity and expertise in DOE service centers and contracting officers is crucial for establishing flexible partnerships with companies. Additionally, communities often lack the resources and expertise to advocate for their local needs. Therefore, DOE awards should be aligned with federal investments in community capacity, technical assistance, and training. This will enable meaningful engagement and ensure mutual benefits.
Workforce Development and Beyond
Early CBP outcomes primarily focus on workforce development through contributions to community and technical colleges. However, it is still too early to see the more direct and nuanced benefits that meaningful community engagement can bring. To further leverage CBPs, DOE grant awards should trigger coordination among multiple federal agencies, leading to aligned investments in areas such as workforce housing, local water systems, public health services, and public parks and trails. Additionally, federal funding should be allocated for third-party evaluation of CBPs and to facilitate peer networking among host communities.
Tracking and Highlighting CBPs
In addition to existing project trackers, the DOE could create a capacity and benefits tracker to highlight CBPs and aligned investments in communities. This would effectively showcase the positive impact of project investments and help secure a social license for developers to work with communities. By doing so, potential opposition, project delays, or cancellations can be avoided.
Community Benefits Plan (CBP)
A CBP is a required element of all DOE grant programs and counts for 20 percent of the total evaluation score. It outlines how applicants will contribute to creating jobs, engaging with host communities, advancing diversity and inclusion, and submitting a Justice40 plan. Successful applicants must follow through on the measurable elements detailed in their CBP.
Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)
A CBA is a project-specific arrangement between a company and a coalition of host community stakeholders. It details the company’s contributions to the community, such as hiring practices, training programs, and contributions to local services and funds. CBAs also ensure local support for the company’s operations and are legally binding and enforceable.
An equity plan is another term for a CBP and was used in the DOE’s Battery Materials Processing Grants and Battery Manufacturing Grants programs.
A host community is where a company locates a project receiving public funding from the DOE. The term refers to a group of people associated with each other based on common values, interests, geography, or social identity. Host communities are defined in CBPs based on location and common experiences.
Community Benefits Plans at the DOE
The DOE requires companies applying for grant and loan programs to submit a CBP as part of their application. This requirement aligns energy investments with policy priorities, such as addressing climate change, creating jobs, and promoting environmental justice. A CBP ensures that host communities benefit from public and private investments in their area. Additionally, early and effective community engagement increases the likelihood of successful project permitting and construction.
Due to the short application periods, companies often don’t have time to negotiate formal agreements with communities. The CBP serves as a framework for post-award community engagement. Grant agreements include milestones that must be met to unlock subsequent funding phases. Successful applicants are required to fulfill the elements outlined in their proposed CBP. The flexibility of CBPs allows for tailored engagements and agreements based on each community’s unique needs and goals.
This report focuses on the Battery Materials Processing Grants and Battery Manufacturing Grants programs, which were the first to require CBPs as part of the application process. CBPs are also required in other DOE grant and loan programs, such as the Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas program and the Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs funding opportunity.
In addition to the CBP requirement, the DOE can create a capacity and benefits tracker to highlight CBPs and the investments made in communities. This will demonstrate the positive outcomes of project investments and build support from communities, reducing the risk of opposition or project delays.
Read More of this Story at www.americanprogress.org – 2023-11-06 14:03:04
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