Viewpoints: Don’t shut out black residents from clean energy revolution

08/27/2014 12:00 AM

08/26/2014 7:53 PM

I’m very troubled by the obvious slight the renewable energy industry – in particular solar – is giving African Americans in Southern California and around the state.

Like everyone else, the African American community needs to be involved in the clean energy revolution. Sadly, we are not. Current public policies serve as a barrier to entry for African Americans to take advantage of these green energy sources.

Here’s how the current system works: Washington, D.C., and Sacramento subsidize rooftop solar panels through the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which gives homeowners as much as 30 percent of the cost. This is a great deal for homeowners desperate for some relief from high energy costs. Unfortunately, this is hardly how things work in our community.

Solar companies, like insurance companies, are red-lining our neighborhoods and shutting us out of renewable energy programs.

To make this point crystal clear, we have just to compare Malibu and Compton. In 2010-11, in the three ZIP codes that cover the famously wealthy Malibu area, there were $1.5 million in tax credits reported for the population of less than 13,000.

With a population of more than 140,000, the three ZIP codes that cover Compton – mostly black and one of the state’s poorest communities – had only $2,269 in solar tax credits. Per capita, the wealthier Malibu residents received more than 7,000 the amount of subsidies as residents of Compton.

This is wrong.

This disparity is made worse by California’s net metering system. Currently, everyone who pays utility bills is paying for both the costs of the electricity and the cost of the wires, poles and technology that are part of the energy infrastructure – except for solar panel users.

They can sell their surplus power back to the grid at market rate, meaning everyone else is paying for solar panel owners’ share of the infrastructure costs. Because public housing and apartments are less likely to have solar panels, less affluent citizens are again stuck paying a disproportionate amount of the cost.

California needs to reform our broken energy system so that it doesn’t reward the rich with tax breaks at the expense of the poor. It is possible to encourage green energy without forcing low-income Californians to subsidize their wealthier counterparts. This is what we must now expect from our elected officials.

The California Black Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to helping people attain energy independence. If you are interested in renewable energy for your home, let us know. If you have a solar system on your home that isn’t what you were promised, we want to know that, too. Tell us your story, and together we can ensure everyone has access to low-cost renewable energy.

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