Powering Progress: Historically Overlooked Communities Across the Southeast Celebrate Clean Energy Wins

Ashleigh Sherman | April 10, 2024 | Clean Energy Generation, Clean Transportation, Energy Justice, Solar

At SACE, we are firm believers that no matter your age, income, zip code, or abilities, you can make a difference in the Clean Energy Generation. However, around the world and across the Southeast, marginalized communities often experience the most and worst impacts of climate change, heightening already existing inequalities. Despite frequently bearing a greater proportion of the costs, these communities haven’t historically been given an equal seat at the table.

But change is happening. For example, $20 billion in EPA funding from the Inflation Reduction Act was announced on April 4 to provide critical clean energy financing for low-income communities. The funding will help disadvantaged communities across the Southeast cut climate and air pollution while also reducing energy costs, improving public health, and creating good-paying clean energy jobs. The funding will help countless people like Mildred Carter, a Georgia homeowner who received a new heat-pump water heater after her water heater died and she couldn’t afford to replace it on her own.

And that’s not all. From bringing solar to Black farmers to introducing female-friendly ‘ShEV’ charging stations, below are just a handful of news stories from recent months showcasing clean energy progress in historically overlooked communities across the Southeast.

Left photo courtesy of Civil Eats; middle photo of Tonya Hicks (on left) courtesy of IBEW Local 46; right photo of Morehouse College

Micro solar leases: A new income stream for Black farmers in the South?

Micro solar leases are offering Black farmers in the Carolinas a new stable source of income. Ajulo Othow’s NC-based EnerWealth Solutions is seeking out Black and small-scale landowners in the Carolinas who want to lease some of their property for solar panels. In return, these farmers receive a consistent stream of income that far exceeds what they would earn by leasing to other farmers. Because these projects are generally smaller in scale, they don’t require landowners to make big changes to their farming practices, bypassing the typical concerns around utility-scale solar. Read more.

Tonya Hicks blazes path for female electricians & provides ‘ShEV’ charging stations

Only 2% of electricians in the U.S are female and only 8% are African American. Georgia’s Tonya Hicks broke barriers when she became the first female Journeyman Wireman in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Hick’s Power Solutions Electrical Contracting works to provide ‘ShEV’ charging stations. While many EV chargers are located behind buildings, Hicks’ charging stations are found in well-lit areas, making them safer for women and seniors. Read more.

Morehouse College gets federal recognition for energy efficiency

Morehouse College was recently recognized for its efforts to make its Atlanta campus more energy efficient. The HBCU (one of many making clean energy progress) has achieved 31% energy savings from a 2017 baseline, meeting its Better Buildings Challenge goal four years ahead of schedule. Energy efficient improvements included installing LED lighting and upgrading the HVAC system in the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel, as well as replacing heating and water systems in the school’s historic Graves Hall. Read more.

Program gives rural Tennessee communities chance to test drive electric vehicles

Rural Reimagined is driving change in rural Appalachia. This electrifying program allows rural residents, including Tennesseans, to test drive an EV for at least two weeks in order to decide if an EV is right for them. In addition to loaning EVs to rural Appalachians, the program also aims to install over 200 charging stations across the region, where finding EV chargers can currently be a challenge. Read more.

Left photo courtesy of One Feather, Photo/Scott McKie B.P.; middle photo of Ebony Hughes courtesy of WPDE/Camille Gayle

Leading the way: Cherokee to receive 15 more electric school buses

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is riding into the future. Less than two years after laying the groundwork to bring the first electric school bus to North Carolina, the Tribe will soon be a national frontrunner with a fleet that is 100% electric. The progress comes thanks to the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program, which awarded the Cherokee Boys Club $5.9 million to purchase 15 new electric buses plus charging infrastructure. In addition to eliminating pollution and providing a healthier ride, the transition has cut upkeep costs. Read more.

Georgetown entrepreneur creates program for minorities entering solar industry

Ebony Hughes of Georgetown, South Carolina, is helping minorities thrive in the rapidly growing solar industry. Hughes’ nonprofit 7 Dimensions recently teamed up with Solar United National to found the Minority Incubator Solar and Disaster Resiliency Hub. Starting later this spring, the hub will serve as a workforce development program, teaching students to install solar panels and build EV charging stations. Read more.

30 historically disadvantaged communities to receive $18 million towards clean energy and economic development 

The Department of Energy recently announced the second cohort of disadvantaged communities selected to participate in the Communities Local Energy Action Program. Through this unique program, 30 communities with historical ties to the fossil fuel industry will receive a total of $18 million worth of technical assistance to reduce local air pollution, increase energy resilience, lower energy burdens, and create good-paying jobs. Participating communities include Alachua County, FL; Orlando, FL; Gwinnett County, GA; and Waynesville, NC. Read more.

In addition, hundreds of federal programs are being transformed to ensure that disadvantaged communities receive the benefits of new and existing federal investments. The Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative directs 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments to flow to disadvantaged communities. These investments include improvements in clean energy and energy efficiency; clean transit; affordable and sustainable housing; training and workforce development; the remediation and reduction of legacy pollution; and the development of clean water infrastructure. These investments will help confront decades of underinvestment in disadvantaged communities and bring critical resources to communities that have been overburdened by legacy pollution and environmental hazards.

Follow along each week

The stories above highlight only a few of the positive signs of progress happening in communities that historically have been harmed the most by climate change. Much, much more needs to be done. We also know that more is happening than we at SACE are aware of. If you know of an example of how clean energy and climate investments are improving the lives of people or communities around you,  we’d love to hear about it! Send us a message at [email protected].

The Clean Energy Generation is creating a future powered by clean energy that leads to clean air and water, good jobs, and vibrant communities. Every day we see signs of hope.

Would you like to see more stories like this? We’ve got just the thing for you! Every Thursday, we share the latest clean energy news on Instagram with #CleanEnergyNews. Join us as we celebrate the progress in the clean energy transition.

Join the Clean Energy Generation

Together, all of us who are taking action are part of the Clean Energy Generation movement. We’re coming together to create healthier communities and a more secure and sustainable environment, starting now. No matter your age, income, zip code, or abilities, you can play a role. You don’t have to have the answers, learning more is a great way to start. Join us, and we’ll share ideas, resources, tools, and practices to show how we can all be part of the transformation.

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Ashleigh Sherman
Ashleigh Sherman is the SACE Digital Communications Manager. She oversees the strategy behind and management of our social media accounts, leveraging SACE’s digital channels to drive awareness, engagement, and action.…
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