Commentary: (Solar) Power to the People!

Commentary: (Solar) Power to the People!

The White House's announcement about clean energy is a step in the right direction. Here's what needs to happen next.

Published July 23, 2015

Chances are, when you think about solar power, you probably don’t think about equality and justice. But you should.

Because America is in a solar boom. Over the last two years, jobs in the solar industry grew 10 times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy. Thanks to plummeting costs, thousands of Americans are saving money — or making money — from solar. But so far, we haven’t seen enough solar panels, or jobs, in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods.

President Obama is working to change that. The Obama administration recently announced a host of new measures designed to bring solar power to more Americans. Connecting solar energy to middle- and low-income American households -- including federally subsidized housing — will cut costs for families who need it most. Meanwhile, the White House commitment to expanding solar jobs, energy education and job training for underserved communities will help ensure that the clean tech boom doesn’t leave people of color behind.

For months, Green for All has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency, solar companies and champions in Congress from the Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific American and Progressive caucuses to encourage the White House to take real steps to expand solar power — and solar jobs — to more Americans. The White House announcement is a huge step in that direction.

We are building a powerful green growth alliance among solar energy companies, policy leaders, and struggling communities — one that can bring the benefits of clean energy to Americans who are on the frontlines of poverty and pollution.

This is important, because our communities stand to benefit more than just about anyone from the clean energy boom — but only if it’s done right.

First, clean energy will protect our health. Polluting coal-fired power plants tend to be located next to Black and Latino neighborhoods. That means our kids breathe toxic fumes from smokestacks day after day. That might explain why asthma rates among Black kids are twice that of white kids.

Switching to clean power like solar reduces our reliance on dirty coal plants — and helps clean up our air. In fact, President Obama’s climate plan, which calls for more clean energy, is projected to save us an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion per year in 2030, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This includes avoiding 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

Secondly, solar will fight climate change. That’s important, because when climate disasters strike, people of color are hit first and worst. Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy drove that point home.

Finally, if it’s done right, clean energy means paychecks and money in our pockets. Green jobs like solar build pathways out of poverty — they tend to pay higher-than-average wages while requiring less formal education. These are the kind of jobs low-income communities need.

Producing your own electricity also means lower monthly utility bills. Wealthy Americans know this -- which helps explain why solar installations increased by almost 80 percent in 2014. We need policies that will extend this opportunity to low-income Americans.

Polluting industries like coal and oil are scared of the clean energy boom. They’re afraid it will eat into their corporate profits, so they’re attacking it at every front. They’re even trying to convince African-American voters that clean energy is bad for us. They’re going to be doing everything they can to destroy Obama’s solar energy initiatives and his Climate Plan. We need to stop them.

It’s time for more solar companies to step up. And time for more Americans to speak out in favor of clean energy.

Julian Mocine-McQueen is the director of education and outreach for Green For All, a national Dream Corps initiative that works to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

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(Photo: EPA/GEORGE FREY/LANDOV)

Written by Julian Mocine-McQueen, Green for All

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