Solar power in California has, in many ways, been an unparalleled success: the state has more solar power installed than the rest of the country combined. There are more solar workers in California (55,000) than working actors or utility workers. Solar workers earn a higher than average wage, and the industry is making strides in employing more women, veterans, and people of color. And, the median income of households installing solar in California in 2012 was between $40,000-$50,000, mostly middle- and working-class homeowners.
But there are two sides to this story because, unfortunately, solar power is still inaccessible to many low-income households.
Take my neighborhood of Boyle Heights, on the east side of Los Angeles, for example: over 70 percent of residents are renters and cannot install solar on roofs they don't own. For those who do own their homes, many can't afford to purchase their own solar system (the median income is just over $33,000) or don’t qualify for traditional financing. Residents here have captured a paltry $0.33 per capita in solar incentives over the past 15 years, as compared to Bel Air (yup, that Bel Air) which received almost $200 in solar incentives per capita – over 600 times more than Boyle Heights. Read More
Walking around my neighborhood in Boyle Heights, on the eastside of Los Angeles, I see murals and street art conveying pride in the community and the cultural roots of its residents. I see street vendors and informal entrepreneurs trying to capture the America dream, smell delicious food, and hear infectious Latin music that will make you want to move with the rhythm. What I don’t see are solar panels, plentiful shade under trees and green space, electric vehicles, and other icons of the growing clean energy economy. Instead, I smell vehicle exhaust and feel the heat trapped in my neighborhood and many like it on the eastside, where communities are bisected by freeways, surrounded by toxic facilities, and bound by a jungle of concrete.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Recently a coalition of labor, environmental justice, and community organizations teamed up with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to put together Eastside Sol, the first 100 percent solar powered art and music festival on the eastside of Los Angeles. The goal of the event was to create a vision of what the community might look like with abundant solar power, more trees and greenspace, and a fair share of the growing clean energy economy. Read More
Sometimes we need to look back in order to see the road forward. Whenever I reflect on the success of California’s climate policies, I like to hop in my time machine and dial it all the way back to ancient history – circa 2010 – when I was a young staffer in Washington D.C. fresh out of grad school with big policy dreams and an even bigger student debt.
For climate advocates, they were the best of times, which quickly became the worst of times. In 2010 the Senate was considering a federal climate bill to finally reign in the carbon pollution driving climate change, while jump-starting a clean energy economy to help pull us out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Visions of hope and change ran high.
But as history goes, the bill failed. Despite different accounts of how the story went down, all agree those were some dark days for the climate movement.
I was there to see it firsthand, and as dreams of big climate policy started to crumble, many advocates held on to one thought to keep us going: “At least we have California…” Read More
There’s a clean energy revolution happening in California – and it has the potential to topple the old polluting forces while fighting climate change with the power of the sun.
California is not only producing the most solar power in the country – 8.5 gigawatts, enough to power two million homes – it’s producing more solar power than the rest of the country combined. In 2014 alone, the state more than doubled its solar power, becoming the first state to generate five percent of its total electricity from utility-scale solar. This record does not even count rooftop solar and distributed generation (where California also leads the country), bringing the state closer to an estimated seven percent of its total power generation from free sunshine.
The solar industry employs more than 54,000 Californians – nearly one-third of all solar workers in the nation – and solar jobs in the state grew by 16 percent in 2014 alone (compared to 2.2 percent overall state job growth in 2014). California solar jobs are expected to grow by another 17 percent in 2015.
California cities are the vanguard of this revolution, with Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento leading the charge. New research finds that California’s cities and urban centers could generate enough solar to meet the state's power needs three to five times over, without developing a single additional acre of the state's natural areas. Read More
We need to have “the talk” about solar power and equity, because ignoring uncomfortable questions will invite misinformation and bad decisions. We need an informed dialogue about how local solar power can impact low-income communities and communities of color in the U.S. We need to talk about “all the good things, and the bad things, that may be.”
First things first: the price of solar panels has fallen by 80 percent since 2008. This significant decrease in cost, coupled with incentives such as net metering which allow customers to send the energy they produce from their solar systems back to the grid and receive a credit on their bill, and the emergence of new financing models like solar “leasing” programs, has led to an explosion of local solar in the U.S.
We now boast an estimated 20 gigawatts of solar energy nationwide (enough to power more than four million U.S. homes), and the United States added more solar capacity in the past two years than in the previous 30 years combined. In fact, as President Obama highlighted in his State of the Union address, “every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008.” Read More
Map of polluting power plants in Los Angeles County. Many are located in or near the region’s most vulnerable communities that are already over-burdened by air pollution.
My mom is a pro at shopping for good deals. She taught me the importance of timing my purchases during the off-peak season to get the most value for my dollar.
Time-of-Use (TOU) electricity pricing reminds me of the lessons my mom taught me, and it can help empower families to take control of their energy use, while saving money AND improving air quality.
Like the name implies, TOU pricing allows customers to choose when to power-up large appliances (think laundry, dishwasher, A/C) in order to avoid using high-demand, “peak” energy – which is more polluting and expensive. It is a voluntary program with a proven track record.
Peak energy demand typically occurs late in the afternoon when everyone is coming home from school and work, running the A/C, charging phones, cooking, doing laundry, or streaming Netflix on a T.V. During this high-demand time, energy prices spike and electric utilities flip on expensive and dirty fossil fuel “peaking” power plants to meet energy demand (because nobody wants to lose power and heaven-forbid the Internet!). Read More