Decarbonizing Austin : strategies to increase equity in solar adoption




Corless, Olivia

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The clean energy transition is underway in most U.S. cities and solar energy plays a significant role in it. Rooftop solar is a viable way for many homeowners to not only participate in the transition away from fossil fuels, but also reap many other benefits that clean energy can offer, including lower utility bills, cleaner air and water, and the creation of green jobs. Although the price of solar energy systems has steadily fallen over the past decade, installing solar panels is still out of the question for many Americans. There are significant barriers to adoption, particularly for low-to-moderate-income (LMI) households, renters, and communities of color. Because of this, solar energy adoption has been highly inequitable and many segments of the population have been excluded from the clean energy transition. Fortunately, there are solutions grounded in energy justice that many cities, utility companies, and other organizations are implementing around the U.S. to lower these barriers and make access to solar energy more equitable, known as solar justice policies (SJ policies). Specifically, I examine four SJ policies put forth by utilities and local governments in California, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Colorado. Austin, Texas presents an interesting case to analyze the extent of energy justice in solar deployment for many reasons. Firstly, like most cities in the U.S., Austin has a long history of segregation and inequality. The city has begun to reckon with this past with a new emphasis on equity in city departments and policies. Secondly, the city has recently put forth new strategies to combat climate change and increase renewable energy deployment through its Climate Equity Plan and Austin Energy’s Resource Generation Plan. It would be a fair assumption that these new, more aggressive renewable deployment policies that coincide with a city-wide focus on equity would produce successful SJ policies for the city’s LMI residents and communities of color. However, the extent to which solar deployment policies pursue energy justice has yet to be analyzed. Through the comparison of four SJ policies around the U.S. with Austin’s solar strategy, opportunities for improvement are illuminated


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