The University of Massachusetts Amherst

How do community members’ opinions about fairness, access, and the pricing of electricity impact their electricity consumption choices?

Harper Team Photo

The Energy Transition Institute — Renewable Energy Equity Partnership (ETI-REEP) project advances knowledge of human dimensions of the energy transition through exploratory research on cultural frameworks for energy equity, taking on the case of Holyoke, Massachusetts. 

Our project brings together researchers from two colleges (Social and Behavioral Sciences and Engineering) to build a formal partnership between the UMass Energy Transitions Institute (ETI) and the Holyoke Energy Transition Coalition (led by Neighbor to Neighbor Holyoke), which is embarking on a multi-year community initiative to plan their city's transition to carbon neutrality. Our research team (from left above) is Krista Harper (anthropology), Erin Baker (mechanical & industrial engineering), Matthew Lackner (mechanical & industrial engineering), and Anna P. Goldstein (mechanical & industrial engineering). The team will carry out qualitative research and a simulation game workshop to understand the dynamics of people’s relationships with and perspectives on electricity access and pricing, including perceptions of fairness as a driver of energy consumption choices. Perspectives from community partners will be incorporated into each stage of research: constructing relevant research questions, co-creating knowledge, and applying new knowledge to solve problems. The ETI-REEP project addresses all three dimensions of the IDS focus on disparities, diversity, and inclusion: 1) by studying public deliberation around the energy transition and environmental inequalities, 2) by eliciting diverse perspectives from people of color and low-income residents within a community-based participatory action research framework, and 3) by advancing the interdisciplinary training and professional development of early-career, graduate, and undergraduate women in STEM fields. This IDS Seed grant will support the early stages of building a community-based research partnership, with the immediate goal of publishing a peer-reviewed article based on our findings and developing a larger interdisciplinary project through the NSF's EAGeR and C Accel RAISE programs that could support longer-term collaborative research that includes a larger-scale computer simulation with more community participants and more advanced data collection. This ETI-REEP pilot project enables us to identify accessible cultural frameworks that resonate with communities, to better understand energy equity issues that can be incorporated into future research.

This team is among the UMass Amherst researchers awarded $6 million from the NSF to study sustainability, equity, and resilience in the energy transition. Read more about the NSF-funded project.