Couleecap launches Solar Energy and Weatherization Pilot Project

Read the full story from the LaCrosse Tribune.

Couleecap has announced a new pilot project to integrate advanced energy conservation technologies, such as solar and air source heat pumps, into existing weatherization programs to further reduce energy costs for low-income households in Wisconsin.

A Couleecap-owned rental property on Eighth Street South in La Crosse is one of two pilot sites. The second pilot site is being identified in partnership with the Monroe County Housing Authority.

Social media engagement increases government action, reduces pollution: study

Read the full story from The Hill.

Citizen engagement through social media leads to a significant improvement in government response and a decrease in water and air pollution, a new study has found

Energy-insecure households sometimes use risky coping strategies to keep lights, heat on

Read the full story from Indiana University.

More than half of all low-income households engaged in coping strategies to reduce their energy bills, according to a study from researchers at the Indiana University Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. The coping strategies, such as accruing debt, forgoing expenses on food, and using space heaters or ovens to warm their home, can introduce significant physical and financial risks.

The research could have direct implications for public policy improvements, including modifications to the U.S. Weatherization Assistance Program, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and state utility disconnection protections.

The article, “Behavioral and financial coping strategies among energy-insecure households,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was written by professor Sanya Carley, Lynton K. Caldwell Professor David Konisky and Ph.D. candidate Trevor Memmott, all in the O’Neill School, and Cleveland State assistant professor Michelle Graff, a former grad student of Carley and Konisky.

U-M releases first national framework designed to measure and advance energy equity

Read the full story from the University of Michigan.

To bolster a just transition to cleaner, more resilient energy systems, the University of Michigan’s Energy Equity Project has released the first standardized national framework for comprehensively measuring and advancing energy equity.

Energy equity recognizes the historical and cumulative burdens of the energy system borne by frontline and low-income communities. To eliminate these disparities, energy equity centers the voices of frontline communities in energy planning and decision making and ensures the fair distribution of clean energy benefits and ownership. 

From poverty to power in Pembroke

Read the full story from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

In Illinois, a rural Black farming community shows that energy efficiency and electrification of appliances can lead to economic justice, without the need for more fossil fuel infrastructure. The program behind this success offers a template for other states to follow.

Energy Justice Dashboard

This Department of Energy tool is intended to allow users to explore and produce reports on census tracts that DOE has categorized as disadvantaged communities, or DACs, pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 14008 – Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.

Innovative partnerships bring community solar to low-income households in the US

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Over the last 15 years, community solar in the United States has grown dramatically: Installed community solar capacity increased almost 700 percent between 2006 and 2019.

But these gains have not always translated into access for low- and moderate-income (LMI) customers. To support LMI participation in the clean energy economy and broader uptake of community solar, the development of catalytic partnerships — dynamic relationships that link utilities, non-profits, financial institutions, developers and other stakeholders to ease financial impediments — will be critical.

The UN just declared a universal human right to a healthy, sustainable environment – here’s where resolutions like this can lead

A young protester in India makes a statement about dangerous levels of air pollution. Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images

by Joel E. Correia, University of Florida

Climate change is already affecting much of the world’s population, with startlingly high temperatures from the Arctic to Australia. Air pollution from wildfires, vehicles and industries threatens human health. Bees and pollinators are dying in unprecedented numbers that may force changes in crop production and food availability.

What do these have in common? They represent the new frontier in human rights.

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on July 28, 2022, to declare the ability to live in “a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” a universal human right. It also called on countries, companies and international organizations to scale up efforts to turn that into reality.

The declaration is not legally binding – countries can vote to support a declaration of rights while not actually supporting those rights in practice. The language is also vague, leaving to interpretation just what a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is.

Still, it’s more than moral posturing. Resolutions like this have a history of laying the foundation for effective treaties and national laws.

Viewed from above, a person paddles a wide canoe down a river lined with plastic and other trash.
The Buriganga River in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is strewn with trash and contaminated by industries and waste. It’s one of several heavily polluted rivers around the world. Munir Uz Zaman/AFP via Getty Images

I am a geographer who focuses on environmental justice, and much of my research investigates relationships between development-driven environmental change, natural resource use and human rights. Here are some examples of how similar resolutions have opened doors to stronger actions.

How the concept of human rights expanded

In 1948, in the aftermath of World War II, the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in response to the atrocities of the Holocaust. The declaration wasn’t legally binding, but it established a baseline of rights intended to ensure the conditions for basic human dignity.

That first set of rights included the right to life, religious expression, freedom from slavery and a standard of living adequate for health and well-being.

Since then, the scope of human rights has been expanded, including several agreements that are legally binding on the countries that ratified them. The U.N. conventions against torture (1984) and racial discrimination (1965) and on the rights of children (1989) and persons with disabilities (2006) are just a few examples. Today, the International Bill of Human Rights also includes binding agreements on economic, cultural, civil and political rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt and others read from the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Today’s triple planetary crisis

The world has changed dramatically since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written, perhaps most notably with regard to the scale of environmental crises people worldwide face.

Some experts argue that the “triple planetary crisis” of human-driven climate change, widespread biodiversity loss and unmitigated pollution now threaten to surpass the planetary boundaries necessary to live safely on Earth.

These threats can undermine the right to life, dignity and health, as can air pollution, contaminated water and pollution from plastics and chemicals. That is why advocates argued for the U.N. to declare a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Three girls in white school uniforms walk down a smoggy street holding kerchiefs over their noses.
Smog has gotten so bad in Delhi at times that the government has closed elementary schools. Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images

The U.N. has been discussing the environment as a global concern for over 50 years, and several international treaties over that time have addressed specific environmental concerns, including binding agreements on protecting biodiversity and closing the ozone hole. The 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global warming is a direct and legally binding outcome of the long struggles that follow initial declarations.

The resolution on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was approved without dissent, though eight countries abstained: Belarus, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Syria.

The human right to water

Voluntary human rights declarations can also be instrumental in changing state policy and providing people with new political tools to demand better conditions.

The human right to water is one of the strongest examples of how U.N. resolutions have been used to shape state policy. The resolution, adopted in 2010, recognizes that access to adequate quantities of clean drinking water and sanitation are necessary to realize all other rights. Diarrheal disease, largely from unsafe drinking water, kills half a million children under age 5 every year.

A boy crouches next to a puddle where a woman is filling plastic water bottles with a hose.
A woman in Sudan fills a water bottle for a child during the 2017 drought. Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty Images

Human rights advocates used the resolution to help pressure the Mexican government to reform its constitution and adopt a human right to water in 2012. While the concept still faces challenges, the idea of a right to water is also credited with transforming water access in marginalized communities in Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Egypt and other countries.

The rights of Indigenous peoples

The 2007 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is another example. It recognizes the specific histories of marginalization, violence and exploitation that many Indigenous peoples around the world have endured and contemporary human rights violations.

The resolution outlines rights for Indigenous peoples but stops short of recognizing their sovereignty, something many critique as limiting the scope of self-determination. Within these limits, however, several countries have incorporated some of its recommendations. In 2009, Bolivia integrated it into its constitution.

People walk down a highway carrying banners demanding the state return their ancestral lands.
Enxet and Sanapaná Indigenous peoples of Paraguay protest in 2015 to demand land restitution and protection of their human rights. Joel E. Correia

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples discusses a right to free, prior and informed consent about development and industrial projects that would affect Indigenous people. That has been a powerful tool for Indigenous peoples to demand due process through the legal system.

In Canada, Paraguay and Kenya, Indigenous peoples have used the resolution to help win important legal victories before human rights courts with rulings that have led to land restitution and other legal gains.

Tools for change

U.N. declarations of human rights are aspirational norms that seek to ensure a more just and equitable world. Even though declarations like this one are not legally binding, they can be vital tools people can use to pressure governments and private companies to protect or improve human well-being.

Change can take time, but I believe this latest declaration of human rights will support climate and environmental justice across the world.

Joel E. Correia, Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies, University of Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

DOE awards $3.6 million to promote equity and diversity in clean energy innovation

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $3.6 million to 18 groups and organizations through the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize — a first-of-its-kind competition designed to support entrepreneurship and innovation in communities historically underserved in federal climate and energy technology funding. The selected projects are helping develop the next wave of diverse clean energy business owners, executives and workforce that are creating bottom-up solutions for sustainable development. The Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 initiative to put environmental and economic justice at the center of America’s transition to a net-zero economy by 2050. 

The prize, launched by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) with additional funding from the Office of Technology Transitions, is supporting teams of entrepreneurs, community organizers, nonprofits, and academic institutions working to achieve energy justice in the national transition to clean energy.  

A recent study found that out of approximately one billion dollars in philanthropic funding provided to a dozen national environmental grantees, just over 1% of the funding was awarded to energy justice-focused organizations. The study also revealed that inadequate access to funding, information about proper procedures during the request for applications process were all barriers that prevented the organizations from being considered for funding opportunities. 

Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize encouraged applications from innovators who had never applied for federal funding and at least 80% of submissions were from first-time applicants to DOE funding opportunities. 

The Phase One winners are: 

  • Accelerating the Impact of Diverse Entrepreneurs Washington, D.C.: The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) will support small and emerging renewable energy companies owned or operated by women, Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, Hispanic, or Native American leaders, with the goal of tripling the number of businesses in the program over the next four years, and increasing diversity in clean energy C-suite leadership.
  • Alabama Energy Transformation Initiative, Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama and Energy Alabama will work together to provide education programs to expose, train, and recruit underrepresented students into clean energy and STEM fields through energy assessment trainings and field trips.
  • Central Valley Innovation Ecosystem, Fresno, CA: The Water, Energy and Technology Center at California State University, Fresno, will create and manage a region-wide, college-level program that matches students with climate and energy-focused startups and provides technical assistance and advisory services to entrepreneurs and startups in underserved communities.
  • Clean Energy Restoration for Rural Alaska Villages, Anchorage, AK: The Tebughna Foundation aims to create opportunities for Alaskan indigenous communities to develop clean and affordable energy resources based on traditional principles of land stewardship, and will create a handbook for equitable clean energy deployment in Alaskan Native Villages.
  • Community Engagement for a Clean Energy Economy, Bethesda, MD: One Montgomery Green and Bethesda Green will work with the community to create an equitable and actionable carbon reduction roadmap, run entrepreneurship training programs, and facilitate community collaborations for clean energy transition initiatives.
  • Creative Collaborations Build Thriving Communities, New York, NY: Soulful Synergy LLC will expand their workforce training program, which focuses on energy efficiency and building systems, to at least 250 new participants from disadvantaged communities.
  • Empowering the Future Energy Workforce, Richland, WA: Washington State University Tri-Cities will develop new academic programs, research collaborations and entrepreneurial activities in clean energy and climate innovation, including a research-based course with industry mentors and incubator integration aimed at engaging, retaining, and empowering Hispanic/LatinX students.
  • Energy Profiles build Community Energy Resilience, Utuado, PR: The Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña, in partnership with Fundación Borincana and Pecan Street, will empower rural villages in the interior mountains of Puerto Rico to take control of their clean-energy future by installing rooftop solar and storage systems.
  • Feed the Second Line: Get Lit, Stay Lit!, New Orleans, LA: Feed the Second Line will pilot solar-plus-storage microgrid installations and an apprenticeship program to in local restaurants to serve as disaster relief hubs.
  • Green Door Initiative, Detroit, MI: As part of their ‘motor city to solar city’ efforts, the Green Door Initiative will expand their climate-smart job training and placement programs, including for returning citizens, and create a model sustainable neighborhood block — creating jobs installing solar panels and improving energy efficiency — to reduce energy insecurity.
  • Imani Green Works! Community Justice & Innovation, Chicago, IL: Imani Green Works is a coalition of nine organizations working to create a minority-owned, minority-managed company to provide clean energy workforce development programs for historically disenfranchised residents of Chicago’s Pullman Community and Washington Heights neighborhoods, and conduct community workshops to foster grassroots innovation in climate smart projects. 
  • Increase Battery Work Force Development, Atlanta, GA: Three minority owned business will partner with Clark Atlanta University, a an HBCU, to create an education program, an internship program and an entrepreneurship course for high school students through graduate students focused on battery design, manufacturing, and testing. 
  • Native Sun REZ Network, Minneapolis, MN: The Native Sun Community Power Development will create the Reservation Energy Zone (REZ) Network to help tribes seeking to share opportunities around clean energy, including through mentorship, through assistance to local rural schools in applying for the Solar for Schools program and through investment opportunities for clean energy projects.
  • New Haven Eco-Entrepreneurship Creative Lab, New Haven, CT: Gather New Haven will recruit young entrepreneurs to participate in the New Haven Eco-Entrepreneurship Creative Lab to develop equitable clean energy solutions, and enable the students to pitch climate-technology projects to increase community engagement and acceptance.
  • Path to Tribal Energy Sovereignty, Pine Ridge, SD: Red Cloud Renewable will provide tribal communities with the workforce and entrepreneurship training, technology know-how, and resources to drive solar and other renewable energy projects on tribal lands. 
  • SEEEDing Knoxville’s Just Energy Ecosystem, Knoxville, TN: The nonprofit Socially Equally Energy Efficient Development (SEEED) aims to design a community-driven just energy ecosystem, encourage distribution of clean energy benefits to the community and develop clean energy jobs training for disadvantaged youth.
  • ‘Solar Utilization and Commercialization Coalition for Energy Efficiency Devices, Edinburg, TX: A coalition of professionals, organizations, and academic institutions that support startups and entrepreneurs will work to bolster the solar manufacturing industry in Texas and support startups in the industry to build economic potential in the Rio Grande Valley.
  • “Xcelerating” Black Climate Startups in Portland, Portland, OR: This team will launch a climate-tech business accelerator tailored for entrepreneurs from local Black and underserved communities. Their projects will include developing a culturally-informed energy curriculum for use with black-owned startups, an entrepreneur accelerator program with the goal of creating more black-owned businesses, and a program to incentivize investment using a just transition offset strategy. 

The winning teams will receive $200,000 in cash and mentoring support. They are also eligible to participate in Phase Two of this Prize, which will conclude in Spring 2023 with presentations to a panel of expert reviewers. Phase Two winners will split a cash prize pool of up to $1.5 million. 

Responses to a DOE request for information identified several barriers to achieving diversity in who receives DOE funding, as well as opportunities and benefits from working with researchers and entrepreneurs with a broad range of backgrounds. Responses came from environmental justice and community-based organizations; business incubators and accelerators; technology developers, investors, and funders; state, local, and tribal governments; researchers; and others. 

Learn more about the finalists and their projects.

NREL to collaborate with eight teams on innovations to unlock equitable solar in underserved communities

Read the full story from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Solar energy is taking off in the United States. The U.S. Energy Information Agency projects that solar power will account for nearly half of all new electricity-generating capacity in 2022. But this growth is not shared equally across the United States. For example, research published in Nature Sustainability found that Black- and Hispanic-majority census tracts have installed significantly less rooftop photovoltaics (PV) than no-majority and white-majority tracts.

To help address these gaps and ensure that the benefits of solar energy can be shared by all Americans, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has selected eight teams from across the country to join the third round of the Solar Energy Innovation Network (SEIN). The teams will work collaboratively to deepen understanding of the barriers that prevent more equitable adoption of solar energy in underserved communities. NREL will provide analytical support to the teams as they design and test solutions to overcome these barriers in their communities.