We can no longer afford to ignore the energy burden conversation, especially as it relates to underserved populations in the United States. Many families are challenged with paying their energy bills every month–constantly having to choose between basic essentials like getting food, buying medication, or keeping their lights on–and North Carolinians are no exception to this problem.
Like most issues this complex, energy justice cannot be solved on its own. In the way that various factors such as lack of access, education, and income contribute to the larger problem of energy inequity–addressing this challenging situation requires the involvement and engagement of numerous parties. The Historically Black Colleges and Universities Community Development Action Coalition (HBCU CDAC) has taken on this challenge with hopes to bring clean energy options and awareness to low-to-moderate income (LMI) communities through their Clean Energy Initiative.
The intent of HBCU CDAC’s Clean Energy Initiative is to replicate their community workforce investment program that focuses on HBCU community engagement. In one of the first successes of the program, the initiative collaborated with HBCU Morgan State University to provide no-cost solar systems for 33 LMI families in Baltimore, Maryland.
Now, HBCU CDAC’s Clean Energy Initiative is partnering with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) and NCSEA business member Southern Energy Management to provide no-cost solar panels for 12-15 homeowners in Greensboro, North Carolina before the end of 2021.
As a historical Black university known for its excellence in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) education, NC A&T has been demonstrating its commitment to bringing forth clean energy options to the Greensboro community through energy-focused research at their Center for Energy Research and Technology (CERT).
Over the past year, CERT has been involved with three community development projects. The first project involved performing energy efficiency upgrades on a few manufactured homes within close distance to campus. Upgrades included roof insulation, window replacements, in-wall smart receptacles and more. The second was a LMI housing project, in partnership with Community Housing Solutions (CHS) and Energy Reduction Specialists of North Carolina (ERS), to complete a series of home rehabilitation and weatherization upgrades on approximately 20 low-income family homes within the community. Lastly, CERT also developed an apprenticeship program to provide in-classroom and on-the-job training for 30 students, who are now able to serve in North Carolina’s clean energy workforce.
Given NC A&T’s strong understanding of the local community and its energy needs, Henry Golatt, Chief of Strategy of the Clean Energy Initiative at HBCU CDAC and his colleague, Natasha Campbell, recognized a strong opportunity for partnership. The work of NC A&T’s CERT and HBCU CDAC’s mission were completely aligned in ensuring that clean energy is accessible to Black and Brown populations. “The fact that NC A&T had already done a lot of the work, including securing resources necessary to ensure that solar was being deployed on suitable structures, was seen as a huge plus. This made it very easy for CDAC to expand upon this project,” says Golatt.
However, implementing a comprehensive project of this nature doesn’t come without its challenges. Typically, a lack of financial resources often prevents the ability to move forward with this kind of work. However, the biggest challenge to the team at NC A&T has been resistance from homeowners to the idea of “no-cost” solar installation. Some families oppose the idea simply because they are first-time homeowners and find this additional and complex component of solar too much to handle. Others have made up their mind about solar being dangerous for their health based on misinformation they have encountered on the internet. And some are simply disinterested in the idea of solar adoption due to pure lack of understanding. NC A&T Associate Professor Robert “Bob” Powell shares, “You would think it’s a no brainer since someone was willing to give you $15,000 of free energy, but it is unknown for some folks. It’s simply outside their frame of reference, so what is good for us to be able to research is how can this idea be more attractive to homeowners?”
The apprehension to clean energy adoption seen in LMI communities can be attributed to a variety of things. For instance, some homeowners have been approached by organizations seeking to exploit their miseducation. In efforts to move forward with providing resources to LMI communities, it’s critical that the perception of clean energy and how it can be beneficial is shifted. “Often times [Black and Brown] communities are the last to catch on to the benefits of things like this, so we’re trying to really be progressive,” says Golatt. Golatt also anticipates that homeowners sharing their experience via storytelling will ultimately encourage others to do the same. “In this regard, we plan to lift up the voices of each of the homeowners who are receiving free solar panels valued at approximately $15,000 per household. Ideally, we want to chronicle their journeys to solar and beyond.”
John B. & Brian B. (Left Photo), Brian B.(Right Photo) from Southern Energy Management working on implementation.
After the completion of this project in January 2022, HBCU CDAC will continue its efforts with other HBCUs in North Carolina and ultimately across the nation. And in conjunction with its Clean Energy Initiative, the organization will work towards impacting the larger HBCU community in several ways via their three other initiatives: Our Money Matters, the Renaissance HBCU Opportunity Fund, and Small Business Development. Each of these initiatives aims to foster wealth generation amongst Black and Brown populations nationwide.
As North Carolina transitions to a clean energy future, partnerships that involve participants like HBCU CDAC and NC A&T are exactly what’s needed to allow for a more equitable and accessible energy future. By continuing this work together, the chances that no home will be left behind is greater than ever. When we do it together, we’re able to accomplish our goals more quickly, and as a result, more families will be better off economically.
To learn more about HBCU Community Development Action Coalition, be sure to visit www.hbcucoalition.org.