In Oakland, affordable solar and energy efficiency advocates have formed multi-ethnic coalitions which have set progressive policy platforms designed to increase usage while addressing the needs of low-income communities of color – setting the stage for a greener future. But the barriers to more widespread adoption of renewable energy among these communities are many.

In 2012, Oakland adopted an ambitious Energy Climate Action Plan, ultimately adopting many of the recommendations set forth by the Oakland Climate Action Coalition (OCAC). These recommendations included:

  • affordable housing integrated with transportation-oriented development
  • energy efficiency programs for renters as well as homeowners
  • equity and sustainability goals specifically designed for the inclusion of communities of color and low-income residents

“It’s great that we got a strong ECAP passed,” says Mari Rose Taruc, State Organizing Director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), one of the organizations involved in OCAC.  But the reality is that “the city lacks the funding to get [all] those good climate solutions implemented,” she says.

However, Scott Wentworth, an Energy Engineer with the city of Oakland’s Sustainability Department, notes the ECAP is proceeding in several key areas, including $20 million earmarked for transportation-oriented development and zero-interest loans for weatherization and energy efficiency measures aimed at renters.

At the city’s Sustainability Department, he says, “a lot of the emphasis is on multi-family” projects, including zero-interest loans up to $30,000 for weatherization and energy efficiency. Wentworth is working with an advocacy groups like the Local Clean Energy Alliance (LECA) to develop long-term solutions to the multi-family issue, one of the largest barriers to renewable energy in residential homes. Still, some of the big-ticket ECAP items, like the urban forestry plan—which could significantly impact air quality in flatland areas—are presently awaiting funding.

Some of those funds could have been delivered this year through cap-and-trade revenues earmarked for low-income communities with high levels of pollution. But those monies were delayed at least until 2015, due to Governor Brown’s decision to divert the entire $500 million earmarked for set-asides from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to the General Fund, including $125 million in set-asides for disadvantaged communities.

Another ECAP recommendation, for community-based solar, suffered a blow when AB 1990, the proposed “Solar for All” bill, was defeated in 2012, after investor-owned utilities (IOUs) mounted successful lobbying efforts against it. AB1990 would have created approximately 1,000 small-scale solar projects in low-income communities, an alternative to the large renewable energy farms located in remote areas favored by IOUs.

Low-income communities of color are not only “the most poisoned by industrial pollution and the most exploited by the local economy,” says Al Weinrub, a member of both OCAC and LECA; They are also purposely “left out of the renewable energy game,” he adds.

Given the current structure of the state Public Utilities Commission, he says, “It’s very difficult for small providers to get into the act.” Though LECA are aggressively pursuing solutions to bypass the CPUC, such as a community choice program similar to models established in Marin and Germany, the reality, he says, is, “it’s not gonna happen in a day or two.”

THANK YOU!! This work was supported by a 2013 New America Media Energy Reporting Fellowship in collaboration with SoundVision Productions’ Burn: An Energy Journal.

How Green Is the Hood series, Nov. 25 & 26, 2013

Nov 25

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