CityViews: City’s Public Solar Initiatives Must Favor Low-Income Areas

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This past weekend, I joined over 200,000 people in Washington for the People’s Climate March. I marched for climate, jobs and justice because I oppose the Trump administration’s attack on the planet. A livable planet isn’t just about the well-being of the environment. It’s about people, and our ability to thrive and nurture our families and communities. Trump’s attacks on the environment have put people in harm’s way, especially environmental justice communities on the front lines.

While the march in the nation’s capital was incredibly powerful and brought people from across the country in unity, I also know that it is local action that transforms our society. It’s more important than ever in this time of Trumpism.

I’ve lived in Brooklyn my entire life from Williamsburg to Bushwick. In both places, I have had to deal with air-quality issues that have caused asthma for me and many friends and family. It is this experience that led me to become a Climate Justice Organizer with El Puente, a community organization with a long legacy of environmental justice work in North Brooklyn.

And we will continue building, because we know it takes roots to lead New York City’s transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy.

More buildings need to go solar, so that we can reduce our dependency on dirty fossil fuels. Investing in clean energy in low-income communities that are more likely to be adversely affected by both pollution from fossil fuels and climate change impacts can help us become more sustainable and live in a healthy environment. In addition, renewable energy technologies like solar can create more jobs for members of our communities.

Today, a new report was released by the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and the Climate Works for All coalition called “Restart Solar: Energizing Environmental Justice Communities.” This report outlines recommendations for how the city can incorporate equity into its decision-making when it comes to installing solar power on our public buildings.

The city has committed to installing 100 megawatts of solar by 2025—at our public schools, libraries, hospitals and more. But the city has a long way to go to meet this goal. This new report presents a plan for prioritizing and re-investing in communities that have been most impacted by pollution and climate change. These are communities like mine that have long shouldered the burden of environmental and economic injustice.

Clean, renewable energy is really important to my community, especially solar projects that can generate real community benefits. Low-income New Yorkers often face economic barriers to participating in solar projects and benefiting from the energy cost savings. When it comes to public solar, I believe that we have a clear opportunity to shape the projects and share in the resulting benefits.

I know many will say that renewable energy is important for every community. I agree with this and would love to see solar power spread far and wide in our city. However, the city has limited resources, and it cannot treat my community and other environmental justice communities as if they were the same as other neighborhoods in New York. We need urgency to begin to address the decades of poor environmental conditions in Williamsburg and Bushwick that have affected my neighbors, my family and children.

Right now, there is only one public building in Williamsburg and none in Bushwick with solar panels. We hope that there will soon be more, but planning for equity is key. Increasing solar power in environmental justice communities will also make our neighborhoods more sustainable and improve the lives of people through the creation of new green jobs.

Virginia Ribot is a climate justice organizer at El Puente and a member of Mothers Out Front

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