March 6, 2018

From Community Solar to CHHI: energy democracy and climate justice

For the last few years, APANO has lifted up climate justice as a priority issue. As many of our homelands are among the countries most impacted by climate change (known as ‘frontline communities’), we’re both listening to the voices of the global frontline communities we come from as well as recognizing our responsibility to move our US economy away from destructive fossil fuels towards.

That’s where the Climate, Health, and Housing Institute (CHHI) was born. A six-month leadership development program, CHHI fellows met monthly to build our collective analysis about the intersecting root causes of the climate crisis, local housing crisis, and health disparities in our communities. Our workshops were based on Movement Generation’s Just Transition framework, helping us understand our current destructive fossil fuel economy (“extractive economy”) and how to build a new ‘regenerative economy’ founded on cooperation and deep democracy towards the shared goal of ecological and social well-being.

We also know that solving the climate crisis is more than changing molecules of carbon dioxide - it’s about changing the unequal and exploitative power structures that create the conditions for climate change. A call for a just transition to a renewable economy means more thang trading our gas-powered cars for electric cars. It means we also have to challenge the underlying systems and institutional decisions that cause our communities to struggle with unhealthy air, housing displacement, and climate change.

Building understanding of what it means to transition to a renewable, regenerative economy, APANO has engaged other partners to learn more about community solar and the meaning of community-based renewable energy. Our participation in the SolarPlus project has allowed us to collaborate with a broad coalition of public, private, and non-profit stakeholders who seek to increase the access to and benefits of solar to low-income communities and communities of color. These benefits of solar include employment in the solar industry, as well as exploring collective ownership of solar installations.

At the same time, Jade District Organizer Maiyee Yuan has been participating in the Community Advisory Committee for the Living Cully Community Energy Plan, developing a plan to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy infrastructure in the Cully neighborhood. We hope to take the lessons we learn from Living Cully to start exploring how we can expand access to affordable and sustainable energy to Jade District residents.

Our participation with SolarPlus and Living Cully Energy Plan has also opened up larger questions about our vision for a just energy transition. While renewable energy jobs are a key part of wealth generation for historically marginalized communities, energy democracy is another key part of a just energy transition. As the Local Clean Energy Alliance writes:

Energy democracy is a way to frame the struggle of working people, low-income communities, and communities of color to take control of energy resources from the corporate energy establishment and use those resources to empower their communities. It means a decentralized energy system, one characterized by social and community-based control and ownership of energy resources. Democratizing energy is a central aspect of just transition from a fossil-fuel economy to a new renewable energy economy grounded in economic and social justice.

Because the City of Portland and Multnomah County both recently passed resolutions for 100% renewable energy, now is a crucial moment to talk about community-based renewable energy - what it means and what it can look like. That’s why APANO has been working with Verde, NAYA, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Coalition of Communities of Color, and the Multnomah County Office of Sustainability to plan a June 2018 community forum on Community Energy Justice.

APANO members who are interested in learning more and getting involved can email Khanh Pham, Manager of Immigrant Organizing, at APANO’s 2018 Climate, Health, and Housing Institute (CHHI) Fellowship will launch in June of 2018. Applications will be available on our website in mid-March 2018.

This programming message is brought to you by APANO Communities United Fund, a 501c3 nonprofit organization.