Community-Scale Energy: Models, Strategy and Racial Equity is a scan of community-scale renewable energy projects happening across the country. Stay tuned for an interactive map showing where and how these projects.
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We are all facing the threats of climate change. From superstorms like Katrina and Sandy to wildfires across Colorado, we are losing homes, businesses and lives. In the face of these threats, how are communities, particularly frontline communities, innovating, adapting and mitigating the impacts of climate change?
We created this scan of community-scale energy projects to document strategies and models that communities are using to fight climate change by reducing our reliance on dirty energy. Communities are cutting energy waste through neighborhood mobilizations to weatherize homes. They are negotiating with utilities to generate more renewable energy, and they are developing solar and wind energy on their own.
These community-based approaches hold great potential. Policies need to keep pace. Energy policies today mostly support individual homeowners though tax credits, which excludes a third of all families and half of all families of color who don’t own their homes. Or policies support large-scale projects like the $2.2 billion thermal solar plant in the Mojave Desert. We need these, but to transition the United States from a fossil fuel fiasco to a renewable and resource resilient economy, communities, especially communities of color, must be able to implement innovation.
Community-scale projects are efficient, economical and potentially transformative. They are efficient and more economical because they can utilize smaller land spaces and require less capital than large-scale projects. Large-scale systems need vast amounts of land, more capital for installation and often new transmission or distribution lines costing as much as a million dollars per mile. There is certainly a place for large-scale systems. But community-scale projects have additional benefits. They invest in the political economy of an area, creating more jobs than large-scale energy projects do, keeping wealth in the community and creating opportunities for residents to be owners and decision-makers. At the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI), we call this energy democracy. From Red Hook in Brooklyn, NY, devastated by Hurricane Sandy, to the Gulf Coast in the South, battered by Katrina and the BP oil spill, mitigation and adaptation in frontline communities requires energy democracy.
In our work to advance energy democracy, CSI has published several reports and case studies. We’ve identified challenges communities face, particularly communities of color, and recommended policies that will help all communities take charge of their energy future.
Now, we have created this scan to highlight the array of innovation underway in communities across the country. We looked particularly for projects in communities of color and were not surprised to find that many good ideas were stalled by lack of funds or insufficient technical expertise. If we are to solve the issue of climate change, we need “all hands on deck”, including people of color, who will soon to be a majority of the US population.
There are other resources highlighting examples of community-scale projects, and we are grateful to have been able to draw from them. To our knowledge, this scan is the most comprehensive, but it is not exhaustive. We encourage communities with other models and experiences to share them with us so we can build on it.
We hope that by exploring the work already underway, its strengths and challenges, we can help answer the question: “What strategies can best help communities, including communities of color, to address climate change and build a new energy economy that benefits the nation?