February 17, 2022
Edison Energy’s inaugural ESJ forum highlights the trailblazers driving a just and equitable energy future
By Elana Knopp, Senior Content Writer
Edison Energy hosted its inaugural Environmental and Social Justice (ESJ) forum on February 9, which focused on opportunities for large corporations to include ESJ initiatives in their renewable energy procurement strategies. The energy industry, including many of Edison’s clients, are exploring ways to bring these principles of change into their organizations and into their renewables procurements.
As environmental and social justice becomes increasingly critical to the clean energy transition, Edison will continue to highlight efforts towards a just and equitable energy future for all communities.
Our powerhouse panel of experts included:
|Gilbert Campbell, Founder & CEO, VOLT Energy Utility, a national renewable energy firm that finances and develops utility-scale solar and energy storage projects for large corporate clients, municipalities, and other institutions.|
|Dana Clare Redden MBA, Founder, Solar Stewards, a social enterprise connecting corporate social responsibility initiatives with marginalized communities.|
|Cheryl Comer, Senior Strategic Account Manager, Duke Energy, where she serves as one of the primary drivers of the DiCE (Diversity in Clean Energy) Program.|
The conversation was moderated by Grace Morrissey, Clean Energy Supply Manager at Edison Energy, and a member of Edison’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Taskforce.
The inspiration behind the work
Dana Clare Redden: “My inspiration for seeing a market need really comes from where I’m from originally–from a small town in Appalachia in western Pennsylvania–on old steel town surrounded by coal towns. I recognized some of the environmental degradation that surrounded the community, in addition to the economic exclusion that was happening in the time. Those things really impacted me and certainly helped me to cultivate a career that addresses some of these inequities. The economics for small-scale projects, specifically in historically excluded communities, were still challenged, so Solar Stewards set out to match the two – corporate energy procurement with those sites in historically excluded communities that really needed a partner.”
Clients of Solar Stewards include corporations, cities, and higher education institutions seeking creative strategies to demonstrate their commitment to reducing carbon emissions, as well as a parallel dedication to environmental justice and the communities in which they serve. This is accomplished via Social Renewable Energy Credits (Social RECs), which factor in the costs of systemic oppression-the wealth gap, redlining, and disproportionate energy burden-to help alleviate their detrimental impacts and create maximum ESG value for stakeholders. Solar host sites are vetted and developed for maximum social impact with specific criteria including demographics, historical context, energy burden, and location.
Gilbert Campbell: “My ‘why’ started about 13 years ago when I co-founded Volt Energy. The reason that entity was started was to be part of the solution for combating climate change but with a particular focus on making sure that historically marginalized black and brown communities were not being left behind. I launched the company to address that issue, where we can use toolkits that companies already have in how they procure renewables but in a way that, through innovation, it impacts marginalized communities across the country in a meaningful way. I also saw a wonderful opportunity for young people–particularly young people of color– to look at clean energy as a growing industry and giving them opportunities to see firsthand the impact of how renewable energy is going to be a major tool to mitigate climate change but also leading to the decarbonization of our power sector.”
Volt Energy Utility has designed the Environmental Justice Power Purchase Agreement (EJPPA) to serve the dual purpose of assisting corporate clients in meeting their clean energy milestones and to fulfill their commitments to support programs that increase opportunities for underserved communities to benefit from the clean energy economy. The primary funding mechanism to identify, evaluate, and determine which clean energy-focused causes to support is the Environmental Justice Community Impact Fund, which directs funding to support clean energy programs that are aligned with the interests of corporate partners.
Cheryl Comer: “I realized that the clean energy industry lacks diversity. I heard what diverse suppliers go through –their ‘ask’ was accessibility, resources, and scalability. What I’ve seen from people at the table is a sincere desire to change the status quo in energy procurement. There was so much enthusiasm and energy–I wanted to convert it from talk to walk. DiCE’s primary goal is to advance the voice of diverse suppliers by utilizing our existing relationships, influence and advocate to raise awareness, open doors, and amplify the voices of our diverse suppliers.”
DiCE is an action-based coalition, convened by Duke Energy, alongside corporations such as Kroger, Microsoft and T-Mobile, and representatives of diverse-owned businesses operating within the clean energy industry. At the center of the DiCE initiative is a no cost competitive platform comprised of diverse-owned businesses operating with the clean energy industry. The DiCE platform will be part of a broader ecosystem of educational, financial, and technical resources tailored to support diverse-owned businesses operating with the clean energy industry.
A call to action
Dana Clare Redden: “It’s about value creation. There are so many solutions available now to buyers looking to recognize more value in clean renewable energy investments. Everyone’s got a sustainability goal and we know it took a little while, but thankfully we’re here. Now it’s time to make an environmental justice goal or just to recognize the opportunity inherent in the action to address quite a few things at once.”
Gilbert Campbell: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Take that step. What can you personally do to take action? Hopefully, you can walk away understanding that communities have been impacted in a wrong way for so long and climate change is accelerating at a ridiculous pace. Those communities are going to continue to get hit the hardest. We have the ability–all of us–to make change, so look inwards at what can you do to be part of that solution.”
Cheryl Comer: “The quintessential question at this moment in time is, ‘What are you doing within your sphere of influence to create a more equitable and just future?’ I don’t think we have to be leaders–not just SVPs and CEOs who are doing meaningful work in this space. The beauty is influence without authority and that you can make change. People make change, people create work culture. It’s the people who are showing a willingness to learn and be deliberate in what they’re doing. For everyone, it’s time to do some self-evaluation of our biases, of our lenses, of our systems, of our processes. Will you answer the call?”