Challenging distortions about low-income communities and solar

By John David Baldwin on May 12, 2015

Distributed renewable energy’s benefits cross class and racial lines. Yet, renewable energy opponents (e.g. utilities and fossil fuel companies) have worked to divide communities of color on this issue. Fortunately, trusted voices are standing up for smart policies that ensure everyone can benefit from renewable energy.

Renewable energy opponents have made a significant investment to pit advocates for low-income communities against each other on this issue, perhaps most notably over the issue of net metering. Net metering ensures that customers with solar on their rooftops receive fair compensation for the electricity they generate. Many utilities and fossil fuel companies see net metering as a threat because it puts distributed solar generation on a level playing field with other sources of energy.

Net metering opponents have enlisted a number of organizations to parrot their false talking points. As a recent article in Grist reported, utility industry lobby arm, the Edison Electric Institute actually composed the text for a resolution by the National Policy Alliance (an umbrella organization for several African-American organizations) on net metering and submitted it to the organization.

Counter to this false narrative, the NAACP, through its Climate Justice Initiative, makes it clear that distributed renewable energy and net metering are beneficial for everyone, including low-income communities. The organization recently put out this strongly-worded NAACP resolution supporting net metering.

The NAACP rightly points out that energy is a civil rights issue. It notes communities of color are disproportionately exposed to the toxic effects of coal-fired power plants, as well as nuclear and biomass plants. Many of these same facilities exacerbate climate change, whose devastating consequences – such as weather events like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, water shortages and rising food prices – disproportionately affect low-income people in general and communities of color in particular.

Innovative solar programs designed to benefit these low-income communities are flourishing across the country. The GW Solar Institute profiles a number of such emerging project models on its website. Last year, the Institute, in partnership with DC SUN (a project of Community Power Network), convened a roundtable of more than 40 businesses, non-profits and government agencies to develop recommendations on how to deploy solar to benefit low-income DC residents. The organization also issued a workpaper entitled “Bridging the Solar Income Gap.” A webpage that the Institute created as part of its 2014 Solar Symposium includes a link to this workpaper and several videos and infographics on the same topic.

Community Power Network members have been working on this issue for years. See a summary of groups and project models here. These projects, and those like it will continue to ensure that everyone regardless of income can access the benefits of renewable energy.