Member Highlight: Eagle Solar and Light Expands Solar Energy Access to North Carolina Tribal Community

This feature is part of NCSEA’s ongoing focus on diversity in clean energy and the importance of creating an accessible, affordable future for all. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Laura Combs from Eagle Solar and Light to learn more about the company’s efforts within equity, diversity, & inclusion (ED&I) to develop a presence in marginalized and Historically Under-Resourced communities.    

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Expanding Access to Clean Energy Through Solar Incentives & Leasing  

Eagle Solar and Light is a solar installation company, located in Durham, NC and Birmingham, AL that focuses primarily on commercial solar energy installations. Their team believes that access to clean, abundant solar energy is beneficial to society from both an environmental and economic perspective. Laura Combs, the company’s Business Development Director, offered a unique perspective on solar expansion gained from a background in government and nonprofit work, along with a passion for environmental justice issues.  

Leasing, as well as a Duke Energy solar rebate, has been critical in helping non-profit organizations install clean energy and redirect energy savings to the core parts of their missions. Since Combs began working at Eagle Solar and Light, she has been in search of ways to expand access to solar energy to marginalized communities. Her efforts have led Eagle Solar and Light to partner with organizations like NCSEA, the Durham Literacy Center, Rebuilding Broken Places (founded by Rev. Dr. William Barber II), and the Lumbee Regional Development Association (LRDA).  

Combs also acknowledged the potential that exists with incentives, along with leasing, to make solar more accessible across the US. To note, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that more than 40% of available roof space exists in LMI communities. As such, incentives like the Duke Energy solar rebate combined with a lease can have a massive impact on bringing clean energy to Under-Resourced regions in NC and beyond. With the support of this new research and Eagle Solar’s successful collaborations with the non-profit sector, Combs will be presenting at the American Solar Energy Society’s 2022 national conference 

 

The Role of Eagle Solar and Light within the NC Tribal Community  

There are currently eight tribes recognized in NC. Of those, just one has achieved federal recognition, excluding the vast majority from receiving federal funding essential for community projects. Combs is adamant that all deserve access to solar in NC, especially its tribal communities, which are some of the most economically distressed populations in the country. Because of this, she set out to spread awareness to tribal leaders about how Eagle Solar and Light could help them reap the long-term environmental and economic benefits of investing in solar. 

The Lumbee Regional Development Association (LRDA) voiced its interest in solar at one of the meetings Combs initiated with the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs and tribal leaders. In this conversation, she helped explain the process of installing solar and gaining cost savings through Duke Energy rebates to Tribal leaders. The LRDA’s installation would be cash flow positive in year one.  

Education and awareness are integral to the clean energy equation. Combs said that regardless of whether or not the tribe decided to install solar, she wanted them to be aware of the opportunities that solar could provide to their community and their missions. Programs like the Duke Energy Solar Rebate are important incentives to allow NC’s non-profits to install solar, reduce energy bills, and redirect funds to other initiatives. 

 

Building Trust 

The relationship between Eagle Solar and Light and the Lumbee Tribe did not happen overnight, but instead, was cultivated after nearly a year and a half of relationship building. Combs explained: “It takes time to build trust in communities that have been historically marginalized.” Thus, time and resources must be allocated to this essential part of expanding solar throughout the state. Further, open and honest conversations are essential to help build trust during this process.   

Combs explained that solar installers must authentically seek the needs of community and keep them at the forefront of the conversations. This includes companies avoiding assumptions that they understand land use in an area, especially in tribal communities. As such, Combs said that ensuring that communities understand its options and the economic benefit of using solar power is her main goal. Combs believes people should not assume they understand land use in other communities, especially tribal communities. Collaboration, rather than telling a group what to do, is the most effective way to find solutions. Most importantly, she notes parties must remain patient. People must recognize that building trust takes time and that there are many nuances associated with developing solar projects in communities across the state and country.  

 

Moving Forward 

Laura Combs is working hard to include as many people as possible in the conversation on clean energy, especially those within historically marginalized communities. Expanding access to solar installations and incentives is an important part of this mission. She also noted that making a conscious effort to diversify the workforce, specifically within the solar industry, is another integral step in seeding the long-term benefits of clean energy in LMI communities. This includes diversifying across all levels of involvement, from sales and installation to upper-level management and leadership. Having a workforce that is representative of society and its community members is an irreplaceable way to pursue the sustainability and inclusiveness of solar projects.  

NCSEA would like to thank Laura Combs for taking the time to speak with us, as well as for all of the important work she is doing with the LRDA. Note: Eagle Solar and Light will install the first system in the fall of 2022 and the Duke Energy rebate is available through the end of 2022. Following this, Combs plans to turn to grants to help LMI communities afford solar. To learn more about the company, visit Eagle Solar and Light. 

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