WASHINGTON— Twenty-six conservation and energy justice organizations today called for the next infrastructure bill to include support for creating energy microgrids, expanding solar projects in low-wealth communities and increasing funding for rural clean energy programs. This week’s widespread power outages in Texas and Oregon show the nation’s power system is ill-equipped to handle extreme weather due to climate change, which disproportionately harms low-wealth families.
Today’s letter asks House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) to ensure that the next legislative infrastructure package incorporates the Energy Resilient Communities Act, sponsored by Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), and the Low-Income Solar Energy Act, sponsored by Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA). The infrastructure package is expected to be voted on in March.
The two bills would authorize grants for clean energy microgrids and community solar programs, boost climate resilience and address power outages and rolling blackouts from wildfires, hurricanes and other climate-induced disasters.
The groups are also calling for a $10 billion rural energy financing program to spur a transition to energy justice solutions for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public power provider, and municipal and electric cooperative utilities serving rural communities.
“The COVID crisis has highlighted the rampant injustices of our energy system, and recent power outages show it’s also dangerously unreliable,” said Greer Ryan, an energy policy analyst at the Center for Biological Diversity. “While we appreciate the growing awareness of this problem, we urge Congress to finance a just transition to clean, affordable, resilient energy as soon as possible.”
A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that COVID deaths could have been reduced by nearly 15% if there had been a national moratorium on utility shutoffs from March to November. Rooftop and community solar could have helped prevent this crisis. They could also help alleviate communities’ dependence on centralized utilities.
“To achieve a clean and just energy transition Congress must invest in communities that are most vulnerable to the climate emergency, experience the highest energy burden, and have had their energy shut off during the pandemic,” said Johanna Bozuwa, co-manager of the Climate and Energy Program at The Democracy Collaborative. “The next stimulus bill must include legislation that promotes community and publicly owned, distributed energy systems for an equitable and climate-resilient future.”
“Energy is central to people being able to protect themselves and their families during this pandemic,” said Chandra Farley, just energy director with Partnership for Southern Equity. “Congress must address the racial injustice embedded in our power system by promoting clean energy microgrids, community solar and energy efficiency projects that advance energy justice, particularly in rural communities served by electric cooperative utilities.”