An equitable approach to accessible clean energy

With new climate records being broken seemingly on a weekly basis, it is more important than ever to address the causes of our increasingly extreme climate. Transitioning to clean energy is a concrete solution for reducing our carbon footprint. But that transition needs to be just and equitable. Everyone must be included to ensure sustainable solutions.

Buying solar panels can be a daunting consideration for new homeowners in Puget Sound. First, the Greater Seattle Area is known for being cloudy and overcast most times of the year. This has led to the misconception that the region is not suitable for solar panels. While it’s true that Seattle will never see the levels of sunlight normal in southern United States, Seattle does receive more sunlight than most of Germany – a world leader in solar energy.

Moreover, Seattle’s climate offers some advantages. For example, frequent rain cleans off pollen and dirt from panels, thus reducing the need for maintenance. Furthermore, some solar cells become less efficient when temperatures get too hot.

Spark Northwest and Homestead Community Land Trust connected with ECOSS to engage communities of color and create equitable access to clean energy. Photo Credit: Solarize Northwest.

The real challenges for solar panels are lack of awareness, finances and bureaucracy. Installing solar panels demands a significant upfront investment. Although there are financial grants and incentives, navigating the processes to access them can be a barrier. Combined with the misconception that the Pacific Northwest is not suitable for solar, people give up on the hope of having solar panels, non-English speakers especially.

ECOSS strives to shift the narrative towards equity by empowering low-income immigrant homeowner families to access green energy. Partnering with Spark Northwest, Homestead Community Land Trust and Puget Sound Energy, ECOSS is educating low-income homeowners, raising awareness about solar panel programs (e.g. Solarize the Land Trust) and helping community members navigate grants and incentives for installing solar panels on their property. For ECOSS, underserved communities are primary audiences, which include immigrants and refugees and non-English speakers.

ECOSS provides food at workshops and info sessions to lower the barriers of attending. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

Engagement is not successful with only one interaction. ECOSS hosts workshops where homeowners are invited to learn more about solar energy. These workshops include interpretation, childcare services and food, recognizing that these are all common needs for families to attend. If an attendee is interested, ECOSS connects them with a solar panel contractor and helps homeowners assess whether solar panels are the right choice given their electricity use, roof suitability and more.

ECOSS works with businesses and community members throughout the process of creating sustainable solutions. Photo Credit: Ned Ahrens.

If this all sounds familiar, it is because ECOSS has pioneered this type of community engagement before. ECOSS advances equity throughout the cycle of installing Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI), from engaging immigrant and refugee homeowners to recruiting and guiding multicultural contractors. This outreach simultaneously provides stormwater solutions and creates green career pathways within marginalized communities. And ECOSS is working to provide the same model for solar panel outreach.

ECOSS is excited to leverage decades of experience to bring an equity lens to solar panel outreach with communities throughout Puget Sound. As the program grows, ECOSS will consider how previous experience with GSI can inform solar panel demonstration sites and contractor training.

Learn more about ECOSS clean energy projects

ECOSS named a leader in environmental excellence

The Port of Seattle honored ECOSS as an Environmental Excellence Awardee!

Video by Port of Seattle with footage and photos contributed by ECOSS and Sam Le.

ECOSS’ programs are as diverse as the communities and businesses it serves. From clean energy to waste management, outdoor recreation to stormwater education, ECOSS provides access to environmental solutions to small businesses and marginalized communities. By working from within the communities that are most-impacted by climate injustices, ECOSS bridges gaps among industry, government and communities in ways that respect people’s cultures and lifestyles.

The Port of Seattle’s Environmental Excellence Award celebrates “the dedication of local partners to engage in healthier communities for cleaner air and cleaner water and to invest in enhanced energy efficiency.”

The Port of Seattle recently honored ECOSS with an Environmental Excellence Award for achievements in environmental equity! ECOSS envisions sustainable businesses and thriving communities supported by equitable environmental solutions. The award symbolizes that ECOSS is on the right track in addressing environmental injustices.

Learn more about ECOSS’ programs.

ECOSS receiving the Environmental Excellence Award with Port commissioners and staff.

ECOSS joined other environmental leaders, including small businesses recognized for their transition to clean energy and transportation heavyweight Lyft that is greening their rideshare service.

Check out the award and other awardees!

Thank you Port of Seattle for honoring ECOSS with this honor. And thank you SVP for nominating ECOSS for the award.

Promoting accessible clean energy with community solar

Transitioning to clean energy – for example, owning an electric car or installing solar panels – is commonly touted as a proactive measure for helping the environment.

Last year, ECOSS conducted outreach on electrical vehicles to understand communities’ concerns about buying and owning electrical vehicles. Communities of color are overwhelmingly interested in clean technology, but they do not always have the information or resources to invest judiciously. ECOSS subsequently helped raise awareness of financial incentives and assuage concerns around vehicle maintenance.

There are many models for community solar. A couple examples are (a) solar farms that people can buy into and (b) solar panels installed onto the roof of a public building for the benefit of those who use it.

Now, ECOSS is expanding its clean energy program into solar. Similar to electrical vehicles, there are financial incentives for owning solar panels – namely the money saved from generating solar energy. But those benefits only materialize after purchase, thus creating a financial barrier.

Community solar is one approach to lowering the financial barrier to owning solar energy technology. Rather than foist the upfront cost of solar panels on a single individual or household, community solar distributes that burden among a collective of stakeholders. Some projects involve residents buying shares of solar energy from a solar farm that reduce their utility bills. Others are centered on public spaces like schools. There are many models for community solar, but they all share a goal of democratizing solar technology.

Outreach and engagement promotes community buy-in and more sustainable solutions. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

ECOSS is teaming up with Spark Northwest and Emerald Cities to bring community solar to affordable housing — a first in Washington State. Spark Northwest is a leader in clean energy solutions, and Emerald Cities has extensive experience in working with low-income housing. These two organizations complement ECOSS’ expertise in community outreach and connections within communities of color.

Community solar projects present unique challenges in comparison to private solar installations. ECOSS’ project is centered on a multi-family housing complex, whose tenants will be the beneficiaries, which raises difficult questions such as:

  • Who owns the project? The developer installing the solar panels? The housing authority? The residents?
  • How will financial kickbacks be distributed? Should they be disbursed to individuals or collected into a community pool?
  • When does ownership of the solar panels transfer to the community?

As negotiations progress, ECOSS will engage housing residents to ensure that their thoughts and feedback are heard. If successful, this pioneering project can form the basis for community solar at other multi-family properties. Look forward to more news about community solar in the coming months!

Learn more about clean energy outreach

This is but a brief look into community solar. Learn more about community solar models through our partner, Spark Northwest.

Electric Vehicles Outreach is an Energizing Endeavor!

Nearly 300 individuals representing ten communities, speaking eight different languages, of all ages from children to seniors. This was the extent of our outreach on electric vehicles in the last two months!

The City of Seattle has set the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. And changing the way we as a city get from point A to point B is central to reaching that goal. Transportation is the single greatest source of carbon emissions in Seattle, almost doubling the emissions of buildings – the next largest carbon emission sector.

Clean energy solutions such as electric cars offer significant opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. But although underserved communities such as ones of immigrants, refugees and other people of color are disproportionately impacted by issues such as air pollution, climate solutions tend to reach these communities the least. This is why Seattle’s strategy for electrifying the city’s transportation includes a lens on racial and social justice.

We teamed up with Forth Mobility to engage diverse communities around the prospect of electric vehicles. Photo credit: Sam Le.

Thus, we were excited to partner with Forth to conduct multicultural outreach on electrical vehicles in neighborhoods around South Seattle. This included focus groups, listening sessions and surveys with Somali, Latino/a, Ethiopian, Vietnamese and other communities where residents could voice their needs and concerns about electric vehicles and transportation access in general. Our outreach culminated in two Electric Car 101 public listening sessions where we answered questions and concerns for the broader community and brought electric vehicles for community members to explore.

 

We provided electric cars at our information sessions for hands-on exploration. Photo credit: Sam Le.

Top transportation concerns included increasing traffic, public transit access and the cost of gas while top electric vehicle concerns included their affordability as well as uncertainty around charging cars and driving range. Nevertheless, interviewees overwhelmingly wished to see more electric vehicles in their community, citing that they were good for the environment and avoided air pollution.

Associate Jose Chi engaging a community member at an information session for El Centro de la Raza. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

These communities care about the environment and support climate change solutions. But they also face additional challenges in rising costs of living, gentrification and social exclusion. The rise of electric vehicles could push underserved communities out. But by including diverse communities in the conversation and implementation around clean energy, we can all promote a cleaner, more equitable Seattle together.

Learn more about our clean energy outreach

[CANCELED] Electric Cars 101 – Lake Washington Apartments

UPDATE: This workshop has been canceled and rescheduled! Click here for updated details for a May 19 workshop.

Learn About Electric Cars!

Looking for a way to promote a cleaner Seattle? Have concerns about owning an electric car?

Now’s your chance to learn more!

On May 26, from 1-3 p.m., ECOSS and Forth will present and answer questions about electric cars. There will also be an electric car on site for you to explore.

Language access: Spanish, English (more to come)

Electric Cars 101 – El Centro de la Raza

Learn About Electric Cars!

Looking for a way to promote a cleaner Seattle? Have concerns about owning an electric car?

Now’s your chance to learn more!

On May 20, from 2-4 p.m., ECOSS and Forth will present and answer questions about electric cars. There will also be an electric car on site for you to explore.

If you cannot make this event, consider the other session happening on May 19, 1-3 p.m. at Mt. Baker Village Apartments.

Language access: Amharic, Cantonese, English, Mandarin, Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese

Electric Cars 101 – Mt. Baker Village Apartments

Learn About Electric Cars!

Looking for a way to promote a cleaner Seattle? Have concerns about owning an electric car?

Now’s your chance to learn more!

On May 19, from 1-3 p.m., ECOSS and Forth will present and answer questions about electric cars. There will also be an electric car on site for you to explore.

If you cannot make this event, consider the other session happening on May 20, 2-4 p.m. at El Centro de la Raza.

Language access:

English, Khmer, Spanish, Vietnamese

New Mobility: Electric, Shared & Equitable

Join us and Forth Mobility for a webinar on May 2 focused on how you may benefit from emerging clean energy mobility technologies! Electric cars have the potential to benefit traditionally underserved communities greatly. Learn how ECOSS is reaching out to these communities and how Forth is working to bring transportation solutions for all.

For more details, go to: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/new-mobility-electric-shared-equitable-tickets-42795402200