Secretary Granholm came to see renewable energy projects that have equitably addressed climate change and created good jobs for frontline communities.
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These visits will help inform the Secretary as she moves forward with the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan and its investments to build a clean energy economy that creates millions of good-paying jobs and delivers environmental justice to disadvantaged communities.
WE ACT’s Solar Uptown Now is one such project (see below for details), and demonstrates the importance and efficacy of these investments.
Solar Uptown Now was created to address the need for energy independence identified in WE ACT’s Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan, which was developed through a community-based planning process in 2015, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
It also has its roots in the concern our community has about the climate crisis. Despite mainstream portrayals to the contrary, research shows that people of color are significantly more concerned about the climate crisis than whites.
Frontline communities are hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change, whether that be the health impacts of extreme heat – in New York City, for example, Blacks are twice as likely to die from the health impacts of extreme heat than other New Yorkers – or displacement from hurricanes and coastal flooding.
In 2016, WE ACT partnered with Solar One and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board to launch the Solar Uptown Now – S.U.N. – which was the first successful solar purchasing group specifically for multi-family affordable housing, where the barriers to solar adoption are greatest and the cost savings are most needed.
The program has installed 415 kilowatts of solar panels on the roofs of 11 affordable housing co-ops across Northern Manhattan, including the building at 128 West 138th Street in Harlem.
It saved the more than 1,000 residents of these buildings $61.7K collectively on their electric bills in the first year. And it will eliminate 4,474 tons of greenhouse gases over the lifetime of the project.
To do the actual installations, WE ACT and Solar One trained unemployed and underemployed members of the community as certified solar installers through WE ACT’s free Worker Training program.
Six green jobs were created as part of Solar Uptown Now, but that was far too few for the more than 100 solar installers trained.
In response to the difficulty of finding long-term work for certified solar installers of color, 10 of those community members trained for Solar Uptown Now formed their own solar cooperative, SUNS Solar Workers Cooperative, under the guidance of Charles Callaway, WE ACT’s Director of Organizing.
SUNS recently helped complete a 9-acre, 4-megawatt solar farm in Westchester and are prospecting for jobs here in the city.
WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.
Photo credit 1) (left to right): Jennifer M. Granholm; Sonal Jessel, Charles Callaway, Peggy Shepard; and Solar Noah Ginsburg. 2) (left to right): Charles Callaway, and Kate Schell.