Fifth Avenue Committee, in partnership with Solar One and with support from Enterprise Community Partners, has launched Barrio Solar, a program to provide financial assistance to low- to-moderate income Brooklyn homeowners to help them install rooftop solar panels. Solar can help homeowners lower their Con Edison bills, lower their property/income taxes, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The campaign is open to all Brooklyn homeowners, and participants will receive free solar consultation from trusted non-profits and discounted pricing through a solar purchasing group. The first 25 low- to moderate-income homeowners that sign up will receive a campaign-specific incentive of $3,500 to apply towards the cost of solar panels or roof repairs, helping make solar affordable to the homeowners who can benefit most from the savings. Barrio Solar is also connecting homeowners who can’t install solar with local community solar projects that provide guaranteed utility bill savings.
In the U.S. and globally, marginalized communities are often the first to bear the brunt of both climate change and air pollution. Corporate decarbonization strategies must address this fact by making equity a core part of their work toward climate solutions.
Reams of data validate the fact that air pollution and poor air quality—from power plants and other sources—are disproportionately borne by people and communities of color, Black Americans in particular. This massive environmental injustice has been recently amplified and brought to the fore by the COVID-19 crisis: African Americans and other people of color are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 at much higher rates than white Americans. Air pollution and pollution-driven respiratory illness are a key part of the cause for this and many other health disparities.
Carbon offsets generated through afforestation or avoided tropical deforestation, for example, often do more for a company’s image than for climate mitigation. Some have proven actually harmful to the environments, lives, and livelihoods of host communities. Similarly, unbundled Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) can confer corporate green credentials without actually reducing GHG emissions or building new projects.
One of the most innovative conceptual approaches to carbon offsetting, however—an approach with environmental and climate justice at the very core of its concept—comes Nashville-based startup Clearloop, which generates carbon offsets by using corporate decarbonization investments to build new, clean-energy infrastructure in the dirtiest parts of the U.S. grid.
Clearloop is based in the heart of the U.S. Southeast, a fossil-fuel-heavy region that ranks as the sixth-largest global carbon emitter and lacks adequate renewable energy mandates. The company’s approach to climate and renewables innovation differs from legacy strategies because it’s anchored to the concept of emissionality.
Coined by the nonprofit WattTime, emissionality quantifies the precise amount of GHG emissions avoided through the addition of a unit of clean energy generation capacity. An emissionality approach to carbon offsetting is therefore an important improvement on “additionality”: It gives companies the ability to drive the addition of renewable capacity in dirtier parts of the U.S. electric grid—the ability to clean up those parts of the U.S. grid that are most reliant on coal and other fossil-fueled electricity generation.
With respect to energy justice, driving renewable capacity additions to dirty regions of the U.S. grid also promises to increase access to cleaner and more affordable energy for populations and communities who have had few avenues for such access to date.
Against the backdrop of renewed calls for racial justice nationwide in the aftermath of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the state of New York announced on Tuesday a slate of grants totaling more than $10.6 million to help underserved residents access affordable solar energy. The grants will help offset predevelopment costs to address resource barriers that typically prevent low-income residents — particularly communities of color — from installing clean energy or energy storage in their homes.
The Empire State is set to provide individual grants of up to $200,000 each to affordable housing providers, community organizations, and technical service providers to assist low-income households and install solar and energy storage systems meant to benefit entire communities. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the government agency administering the program, will be hosting a webinar on July 14 to launch the grant opportunities and provide more information on the application process. The state will accept applications on a quarterly basis through the end of 2024.
This initiative is the result of New York’s landmark environmental justice legislation, which helped bring the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) to life in January. The CLCPA made headlines for being the most ambitious emissions-reduction legislation in the country, thanks to its promise that the state will reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and 100 percent renewable electricity by 2040. The CLCPA and the accompanying environmental justice bill require the state to make good on its commitments to address environmental injustice and invest in underserved and pollution-burdened communities. Tuesday’s announcement is part of that follow-through.