The NAACP wants to ensure that as the solar economy grows, people of color and low-income populations aren’t left out.
The Solar Equity Initiative is the first big step toward this mission. SEI is a yearlong pilot program to bring solar awareness and job opportunities to underserved communities, according to Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environment and Climate Justice program.
“As we’ve seen the uptick around solar, we’ve already seen there hasn’t been as much in the way of low-income communities and communities of color engaged,” Patterson said.
The Solar Equity Initiative takes a three-pronged approach to spreading awareness—providing solar skills training to at least 100 people, installing solar on 20 households and 10 community centers and strengthening equity in solar access policies in at least five states. The organization will have help from partners including GRID Alternatives, SEIA, Sunrun, Vote Solar and others. It kicked off the initiative on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with an installation at The Jenessee Center in Los Angeles, a non-profit domestic violence prevention and intervention organization.
Patterson said that even within marginalized population groups like women, the NAACP wants to dig deeper and make sure people who are further ostracized, like domestic violence survivors and the formerly incarcerated, are also included.
The NAACP’s primary work is in the arena of advocacy and policy, but it saw a need to get hands-on to help bring low-income communities of color into the solar movement. When it tried to mobilize its constituents to fight back against the solar tariffs in 2017, it was met with mostly apathy. Communities of color did not see solar in their neighborhoods or representation in industry employment. They wondered why they should care about high-level solar legislation.
So the NAACP decided it needed to act.
“I think once we light a spark, that piece will take on a life of its own and then we can go back in some ways to what we always do, which is the policy advocacy,” said Patterson. The policy work won’t stop until states have robust renewable portfolio standards, community solar and net-metering policies.