Renewables are “located in” and “benefit” environmental justice neighborhoods

Renewable energy projects should both be located in and benefit environmental justice communities to ensure that the most impacted communities receive the health and economic benefits of the clean energy.

100% policies should explicitly prioritize Environmental Justice (EJ) communities. It is important for BIPOC and frontline communities to distinguish between renewable energy that is “located in” EJ communties, versus renewable energy sited far from an EJ community and still “benefits” that community. Advocates should determine their definition of “benefit,” which may include: ownership, business opportunity, control, direct bill savings, lease revenue, etc. The strong recommendation is to include renewable energy projects both “located in” and “benefiting” EJ communities (while recognizing that it is not always feasible to site all renewable energy within target communities) because it rectifies disproportionality of dirty energy impacts and structural inequities. The public health and economic goals of achieving 100% regenerative energy will only be achieved if renewables are located in and benefit BIPOC and frontline communities.

This issue typically becomes important in cases where larger community solar projects or utility-scale renewables are being considered. In the urban context, there may not be a rooftop that is large enough for a community solar project so the community may decide to site the community solar project in a neighboring city while still reaping the benefits of those electrons. In other cases—typically in the rural and Indigenous contexts—a large solar array in the desert may make more economic sense and a community may decide to approve that large solar array as long as the EJ community still receives the economic benefit of that solar. However, large solar arrays and large wind turbines have generated opposition (for example, in the Inland Valley in California, a sub-rural and desert area) due to their detrimental effects on the local environmenta and wildlife, and the build out of long and expensive transmission lines. The ideal scenario is to promote renewable energy that is both “located in” AND “benefiting” the local community.

In some cases, if done right, large-scale wind farms can balance solar seasonally, provide needed revenue to family farmers, and provide tax revenues to small rural communities and help save them from decline. For example, large scale wind farms pay taxes in Minnesota to local counties. Such taxes in areas with fossil fuel plants can help fund a Just Transition and provide new well-paying jobs.

Policy recommendations

Advocates should include the following policies and principles to ensure renewables are located in and benefit BIPOC and frontline communities:

  • Do No Harm principle. Wherever renewable energy is sited and energy efficiency upgrades are made, these projects should not create further harm in those communities.
  • Democratic control and ownership. BIPOC and frontline communities should have control over distribution of benefits and opportunities for ownership of the renewable energy. The goal should be to transition away from the same energy system controlled and owned by the fossil fuel industry or profit-driven IOUs. (See Push for Community Ownership and Control section for more detail).
  • Creation of good local jobs. High road careers should be created that are linked to the infrastructure development of local distributed generation. (See Prioritize High Road Careers and Economic Benefits section).
  • Ensure there is not uneven attention given to urban and rural. As mentioned in the Promote Geographic Diversity section, special attention needs to be made so that rural communities are prioritized.
  • If projects are on Tribal land, tribes must be compensated. Past harms and reparations on Tribal land must be recognized in any energy industry development. If renewable energy is sited on Tribal land, tribes must be compensated. (See sections on “Tribal Sovereignty and Rights” and “Recognize Land, Water, and Air Rights and Public Use of Land” for more detail).