A Green New Deal is Happening Now, at a Local Level
I have been working to address the problem of environmental racism and fighting pollution in communities of color, the PG&E Hunters Point power plant in San Francisco and the tar sands expansion of Bay Area refineries. The big question has always been, what is the solution to this community pollution problem? I remember a youth member, Julia, in Stanislaus County saying to a full board of County Supervisors, “I would rather see a recycling facility and solar panels in my community, instead of a waste-to-energy garbage incinerator!” Our communities are the key to the solution, but we needed policies to get these solutions on the ground.
Community Choice policy was adopted under AB117 in 2002, but a flurry of monopoly utility sponsored attacks stifled the policy from being implemented soon after. Fast forward to 2014 in Alameda County, the East Bay Clean Power Alliance (EBCPA) was formed–a county-wide alliance of various organizations and activists who sought to establish an East Bay Community Choice energy program. The Local Clean Energy Alliance (LCEA) advocated that we demand a commitment to developing local clean energy programs and projects with the goals of affordability, creating clean energy jobs, offer more renewables than PG&E and the California state mandates, a reduction in local and regional pollution, improve local health, reduce consumption of electricity, keep the energy wealth in our community and all of this must be done with community at the heart of the decision making. We managed to get all these goals to be adopted into the governing documents of East Bay Community Energy (EBCE). But still, in order to start a Community Choice program, we have to buy and sell energy off the market and that mechanism in itself, isn’t so green. So we advocated for a Local Development Business Plan–A Green New Deal for the East Bay, the intent is to develop local renewable projects and programs.
We are living in a time of false climate solutions, like large hydroelectric dams, incineration like biomass and other schemes that are more of a greenhouse gas dance, than a reduction. Continuing the legacy of adversely impacting poor communities and complex ecosystems all while using catchy green marketing. Clean energy from remote solar and wind farms are often out of state and therefore outsource the workforce, robbing us of our energy wealth that could be best used to create local jobs and clean energy infrastructure here at home. Even worse, there are market mechanisms that allow the dirty stuff to be sold as renewable energy. Market purchase energy is just merely a playing ground for dirty energy corporations to continue their business as usual, including exacerbating environmental racism, where we pay the highest prices for utilities and the ultimate price with our health and lives.
In order to have true clean energy, it has to be in our communities–in our built environment and our communities have to be at the heart of making the vision real in our communities.
In the East Bay, we now have a Community Choice energy program that supplies us with electricity and is committed to local clean energy investment from its revenues and acquisition of grants, this is the result of years of community pressure and organizing. While the Green New Deal is being held hostage on a National level, East Bay Community Energy board is setting a precedent to do Community Choice energy the right way, by allocating multi-millions of dollars toward programs and projects that reduce energy waste, electrify vehicles and buildings, fund and incentivize community projects. The transition is happening, but who benefits and who loses, is what matters. We must be positioned to ensure that the investments of programs and projects are actually reaching low-income people, people of color, renters and working-class homeowners who cannot afford to solarize their own homes.
Energy has been at the center of injustice, now is the time to make energy a solution for the survival of our communities.
About the Author
Meet Jessica Guadalupe Tovar, a 2019 Roddenberry Fellow. Jessica is an organizer for the Local Clean Energy Alliance, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Local Clean Energy Alliance is the Bay Area’s foremost membership organization working at the local, state, and national level to promote a clean energy future through the development and democratization of local renewable energy resources. Learn more about her work here.