Clean energy and climate resilience for all

An electric city vehicle is seen charging outside San Francisco City Hall. (Jessica Christian/2017 S.F. Examiner)

With the Trump administration failing to lead on climate policy, Bay Area residents should be asking which communities will be hit hardest by the effects of climate change?

The California Environmental Protection Agency has a free online tool, CalEnviroScreen, that enables the public to see statewide maps of disadvantaged communities, those with high rates of pollution and low income. Many of these communities in the Bay Area are located in coastal areas prone to flooding. The areas most at risk for the worst effects of climate change also have the least means to make the investments required to reduce energy waste and adapt to sea level rise.

California is on track to get its greenhouse gas pollution back to 1990 levels by 2020, and then move toward a new target of a 40 percent reduction by 2030. But the state’s model for tackling climate change will only succeed if we make sure the benefits of a clean energy economy extend to all residents, including those in disadvantaged and low-income communities. We must expand financial incentives and targeted programs to make it faster, easier and cheaper for people of all economic backgrounds to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and fortify their communities against sea level rise.

Since transportation is responsible for 39 percent of the state’s emissions, making it easier for drivers to switch from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles is crucial. Gov. Jerry Brown wants to see 5 million electric and other zero-emission vehicles on California roads by 2030, but we will fall well short of this goal unless people can afford the cars and easily access the charging infrastructure. Fortunately, a combination of federal tax credits and state rebates can cut the cost of an electric car by up to $10,000 for everyone, or up to $12,000 for low-income drivers. California and regional agencies like the Bay Area Air Quality Management District may soon introduce even more rebates, which could make the decision to go electric still easier.

PG&E recently started rolling out a program to install 7,500 electric charging stations in the Bay Area with a focus on workplaces and apartment buildings; at least 15 percent of the chargers will be placed in disadvantaged communities. In addition, the state plans to spend $2.5 billion between now and 2025 to increase the number of charging stations in California from 14,000 to 250,000.

Nonprofit “community choice” agencies, such as Clean Power SF, Peninsula Clean Energy and Silicon Valley Clean Energy, have important roles to play in clean energy equity as they provide renewable energy to their customers from resources like solar and wind — and at lower rates than PG&E.

In many low-income communities, utility bills can represent as much as 20 percent of household income. GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit based in Oakland, installs solar panels on Bay Area homes using teams of volunteers and job trainees. Qualifying families can save more than 90 percent on their electricity bills when they switch to solar.

Finally, rising sea levels are expected to threaten businesses and homeowners along the Bay in the near future. Low-income communities in areas like Bayview-Hunters Point and East Palo Alto already experience flooding and are especially vulnerable. The Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge has assembled design teams to work on collaborative solutions at 10 sites in the Bay Area. Those teams are now creating blueprints for strengthening community resilience through education and improved planning for the impacts of climate change.

Climate change threatens everyone. Let’s support the community-based organizations and public agencies that are working on equal opportunity solutions.

Adam Stern and Julie Noblitt are executive director and energy and climate program director, respectively, of Acterra, a Bay Area environmental group based in Palo Alto.

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