The Rising Dawn: How Equitable Solar Policy Can Forward Economic and Climate Justice Part Three

Scaling Up & Building Solutions to Expand Frontline Community-Led Solar

The Just Solutions Collective and the People’s Solar Energy Fund presents, “The Rising Dawn: How equitable solar policy can forward economic and climate justice”, a three-part blog series of policy models and insights from environmental justice leaders on Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) frontline community-led solar policy. For part one and two of the series, please visit our website here

Why Scale?

“The main reason why BIPOC-Frontline community led solar is important is that it’s completely necessary for a just transition. Solar itself does not inherently deliver a just transition, but it presents the opportunity to model a just transition. For this, solar projects must be community led, allow local workforce development, allow communities to contribute to the energy system as informed stakeholders, to produce clean energy in communities impacted by fossil fuel infrastructure while creating local jobs. Solar is an opportunity for that.” - Summer Sandoval, UPROSE

For a just transition, it is imperative that the expansion of solar is done in a manner that rights the wrongs of the energy system from a restorative justice perspective. With millions of federal and state funding being funneled into the solar industry, it is critical that this public money is spent effectively for the benefit of BIPOC-Frontline communities rather than be captured by already well-resourced groups. Solar policies and programs need to be designed in a way that delivers economic justice in addition to paving the way for a 100% renewable energy system. It’s clear from experiences on the ground that existing policies still have a long way to go before they can serve BIPOC-Frontline communities at the level and scale required. Aspects of the current system that need to be reformed are outlined in the sections below. 

State’s solar policies need to include a number of provisions:

Solar policy design and implementation must ensure a seat at the table for BIPOC-Frontline communities and sovereignty for tribes.

  • BIPOC-Frontline Community organizations should be involved in shaping and governing solar policy at every level. 
  • Provide funding for Frontline Community Organizations to participate in the development, governance, implementation, evaluation, and ongoing revision of solar policy.
  • For indigenous communities, solar policy and institutions should support any self-determined goals for energy sovereignty and local economic development including autonomous ownership and control of their own utilities.

Enabling policies and financing should be created that support solar models that are accessible to BIPOC-Frontline community-led solar.

  • Provide enabling legislation and policy to support a variety of models that renters and low income people can access.
  • Create policy and investment ‘bike lanes’ to accelerate the development of community-led solar in BIPOC-Frontline Communities and ensure it meets the scale of demand and need. 
  • Provide funding for technical assistance and training for community-led energy initiatives led by BIPOC-Frontline Communities and support the proliferation of more mission aligned partners. 
  • Create a solar manufacturing industry and jobs that are based on sustainable and ethically produced raw materials.

Comprehensive utility reform must be carried out to create a level playing field and remove the serious barriers that many major utilities currently pose to the rapid scaling and uptake of equitable solar and to instead turn utilities into a force for community empowerment and local wealth-building.

  • Reform and regulate utilities so that they don’t hold unaccountable monopolies and entitlements, and have to provide fair services. 
  • Support the development of municipal, tribal and cooperative utilities that are responsive to community needs and aspirations. 

Take a restorative justice perspective to the solar sector. Link solar more broadly to building a fairer system and the solidarity economy to support wealth building in BIPOC-Frontline communities. 

“Solar should have community wealth building components that include revenue generation and sharing. We need community jobs and wealth creation that’s not just temporary around construction. Projects should be sited in or around the community and not just on residential rooftops. Projects should have a connection to the community through other institutions such as community anchor institutions, and use their roofs and parking lots, etc.” - Chandra Farley, Partnership for Southern Equity.

  • Create a non-competitive ‘bike lane’ for the development of community-led energy solutions that support goals for wealth-building in BIPOC-Frontline communities. 
  • Pass enabling legislation in every state that supports the development of community structures that are the basis wealth building and allows their full participation in the solar energy sector.
  • Provide a range of solar financing options that prioritize ownership opportunities that guarantee economic benefit to participating consumers. 
  • Provide funding for workforce training and development programs in parallel to support for the development of women and minority owned businesses and worker and consumer-owned cooperatives in BIPOC-Frontline Communities. 

BIPOC-Frontline community led solar is important because it is necessary for a just transition. As Summer Sandoval from UPROSE shared, “BIPOC-Frontline co-governance will be at the heart of change”. For a just transition it is also imperative that the expansion of solar is done in a manner that rights the wrongs of the energy system from a restorative justice perspective. On this note we close, “The Rising Dawn: How equitable solar policy can forward economic and climate justice”, a three-part blog series. We would like to thank the People’s Solar Energy Fund, our contributing BIPOC-Frontline authors and participants for sharing their knowledge and policy models for community-led solar policy. For part one and two of the series, please visit our website here

Contributing BIPOC-Frontline Authors: 

Shakoor Aljuwani, NYC Community Energy Co-op and Co-op Power

Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, Cooperative Energy Futures 

Chandra Farley, Partnership for Southern Equity

Jacqui Patterson and Denise Abdul Rahman, NAACP

Amee Raval, Asian Pacific Environmental Network 

Bob Blake, Native Sun

Image Credit: UPROSE