At Clearloop we strongly believe our future is clean energy. While we have seen greater efforts to expand utility-scale solar power in the U.S., there’s a widening gap between solar adoption and communities in need of clean energy investment. Disadvantaged communities, particularly in the South and Midwest, continue to endure the environmental, health, and economic effects of climate change. Too often, these communities are left behind with a carbon intense electric grid, powered by fossil fuels. If we want to reach our climate goals, we need to transition to an equitable clean energy economy that provides clean energy to all corners of the country equitably, starting with the communities that need it most.
Disproportionate Effect of Fossil Fuel Generation on Low Income Communities
Low income communities throughout the U.S. continue to rely on fossil fuel-generated electricity, even as fossil fuels have become more expensive than renewable energy. This is especially true for communities of color and indigenous groups, who are left with higher bills and with no ability to influence where their electricity comes from. Low-income communities are also more likely to suffer from the effects of pollution. These health problems lead to increased rates of asthma, cancer and lung disease. While great programs exist to help families and individuals pay for increasingly expensive utility bills, expanding solar power in these communities can help stabilize energy prices in the first place. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states, energy costs accounted for the highest increase in consumer prices this month, than did any other category. Energy rose 25 percent, while all other items, not including food, up only 4 percent. In expanding solar power access to communities facing financial hardship we can start lowering the costs of the average household’s utility bill and provide clean energy to the community. Through our project at Jackson, TN we will be able to generate enough clean electricity to power 200 homes, reclaim 60 million pounds of carbon, and begin to make necessities like electricity more affordable.
Communities in Underserved Areas of the U.S. Deserve Environmental Justice
In 2020, an estimated 61% of electricity generation in the U.S. came from fossil fuels, including coal and, increasingly, natural gas. This percentage is much higher in poor and minority communities, who often rely on a disproportionately carbon intense grid. A report by the NAACP studied the 378 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. and found that six million people living within three miles of the plants had an average yearly per capita income of $18,400. Out of those 6 million, 39% are people of color. Even worse, low-income communities of color are often located near polluting industries that make them increasingly vulnerable to health effects. By cleaning up the grid and replacing fossil fuels with clean energy alternatives, we could provide environmental justice through cleaner air, better health outcomes, and less pollution.
Coal Fired Power Plants are Running a Loss
Today, it costs more to generate electricity from fossil fuels than from renewable energy like solar power. Running existing coal plants has also proven to be more expensive, with 42% of global coal capacity remaining unprofitable. Replacing costly coal plants with local solar farms will reduce emissions and offer local communities a cheaper and more sustainable alternative. As noted by Forbes, wind and solar could replace lost jobs in the coal industry, expand the tax base and reuse transmission, all within the same local area or even the same utility territory.
Solar Creates Opportunities to Boost a New American Workforce
Renewable energy jobs are on the rise as more states throughout the U.S. are investing in clean energy, with over 230,000 workers in the U.S. solar industry in 2020 alone. These jobs, primarily in the fields of clean energy production, energy efficiency, and environmental management, “offer higher and more equitable wages when compared to all workers nationally,” according to the Brookings Institute. In fact, 50% of workers have no more than a high school diploma, yet make more money than their peers in other industries, meaning a college degree is not a necessity to earning a high wage in clean energy. As the renewable energy sector grows, the opportunities for these jobs will increase. In order to transition to an equitable clean energy economy, we need to build solar in communities that can benefit from the career opportunities and higher wages that follow solar projects.
There is Great Opportunity to Invest in America’s Forgotten Communities with Clean Energy
Historically, low-income communities of color have faced a disproportionate energy burden. These communities have long suffered the effects of pollution and endured the financial burden of high utility bills. The transition to a clean energy economy is necessary not just for our environment but for social and economic reasons as well. Until we can prioritize equitable change, these disadvantaged communities will continue to face environmental hardship. Providing clean energy to all corners of the U.S. is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.