Solar Industry
By Noemi Gallardo

More than ever before, states need to step up in the fight to save our planet. California is leading the charge to fill this void, but we can – and should – do more.

Thankfully, Californians are starting to take action and show what it means to be good, responsible global citizens. Earlier this year, state lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown approved a package of laws that seek to continue California’s climate leadership.

We are also a national leader for energy innovation and clean energy choices. As a state, we have committed to obtaining at least 50% of our energy from renewable sources by 2030, and state leaders had even proposed increasing that number to 100% by 2045.

But this isn’t enough. We know that climate change will continue to disproportionately impact minority and low-income communities. One clear way to make a difference is by increasing access to affordable clean energy to our most vulnerable populations. Our state has a great chance to lead this charge and show our country a path forward.

Empowering low-income Californians to participate directly in the clean energy economy will not only help our planet, but also boost local communities and diversify our companies. It will open the door for more good jobs with pathways to sustainable careers to the people who need them most, as well as enable folks to serve and represent the communities they live in.

For example, solar jobs represent a significant segment of the American workforce. According to The Solar Foundation, solar jobs have increased at least 20% per year for the past four years, and such jobs have nearly tripled since 2010. In 2016, there were over 260,000 solar jobs in the U.S., and industry leaders estimate a 10% growth in the coming year. California alone accounted for more than 100,000 of those jobs.

No more “greenwashing”! We must create a groundswell and make California’s movement toward 100% clean energy about empowering people and communities, providing clean energy choices, and creating more jobs.

This opportunity is why I’m excited to be chosen to serve on The Greenlining Institute’s board of directors while taking on a role as senior public policy manager at the California-based national solar energy company Sunrun. As a former Greenlining Leadership Academy fellow working with the organization’s energy policy team, Greenlining inspired me to break down economic barriers on a variety of issues, including energy.

At Greenlining, it’s our mission to amplify the voice of low-income communities and communities of color. We want to defend energy consumers in these underserved areas and advocate for programs that will expand access to renewable energy choices, while making them affordable.

Greenlining works with a coalition of nonprofits like GRID Alternatives and Rising Sun, as well as private-sector companies like Sunrun to enable more clean energy options to more people. We want to bring together communities and uplift their voices so that policymakers listen to their needs. Access to clean air and affordable energy is not a luxury; it is a human right.

The solar industry is already making progress. In California, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts alone, estimates suggest that there are now more than 100,000 lower-income solar households – or families who make less than $45,000 annually.

But, again, there’s still a long way to go. We plan to collaborate with stakeholders from across the industry and, most importantly, with the communities themselves to empower families with clean, affordable, reliable energy that will lead to brighter days for everyone.

California can’t change what happens in Washington, but we can set an example for the nation to follow.