Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014 | 2:03 a.m.
Clean energy isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s a civil rights issue. Our nation’s choice to get the vast majority of energy from dirty fossil fuel sources has serious consequences for the physical and economic health of our communities.
These consequences fall particularly hard on communities of color. For example, more than two-thirds of black Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.
Segregation forced generations of blacks to live in the least desirable areas, places where pollution has shortened life spans and slowed economic growth. People who live near energy production facilities such as coal-fired power plants are more likely to have health problems. This includes prolonged exposure to smog, lead, asbestos, mercury and arsenic, which are linked to respiratory illnesses, birth defects, learning problems and more. Other effects include compromised educational outcomes and lower property values.
The costs of continuing on the fossil fuel-dependent paths are disproportionately borne by low-income communities and communities of color.
Fortunately, the development of clean energy sources, such as solar, provides an opportunity to improve the health and well-being of everyone while creating economic enterprise opportunities.
The NAACP Just Energy Policy Report highlights the important strides Nevada has already made in making smart investment in renewable technology. For example, the state has a goal of getting 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Our state also allows for limited net metering of solar energy. Net metering ensures that businesses and homes that have solar panels are paid a fair price for the energy they generate. Net metering helps make solar a financially smart decision.
However, our state’s modest net metering policy is under threat, as the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada is considering repealing net metering in the state. This would be a serious mistake. Net metering has been crucial to the growth of our state’s solar industry. This industry has driven $200 million in private investment and helped support 2,400 solar jobs. The PUCN’s own study, released during the summer, found that net metering provides a $36 million benefit to Nevadans.
Opponents of solar energy claim that solar only benefits the rich. They are wrong, as the Nevada PUC study shows. You don’t have to go solar yourself to receive its benefits. The increased use of solar has allowed all energy consumers to save money by reducing energy transmission costs. Centrally produced electricity, say from a coal plant, has to be distributed over transmission lines to homes and businesses. Locally produced net metered solar can be transmitted more cheaply because it does not have to travel as far.
Clean solar power is saving Nevadans money, even if they haven’t gone solar. It also has the potential to create a permanent job market in the state. Currently, Nevada imports roughly 90 percent of the energy we use.
This potential is especially attractive to black communities. Although blacks spent $41 billion on energy in 2009, they held only 1.1 percent of energy jobs and gained 0.01 percent of the revenue from energy sector profits. The growth of a new energy sector is an opportunity for the black community to reap the economic benefits we have previously been denied.
Nevada can see that we achieve this potential by enacting Local Hire and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise provisions. These provisions support economic opportunities for black entrepreneurs, female entrepreneurs and communities in the energy sector.
I urge the PUCN to stand up for the health and economic well-being of all Nevadans by expanding net metering to 2,000 kilowatts across the board and expanding or eliminating the statewide 3 percent net metering cap. Having a fair policy toward solar customers is a fair policy for all.
Jeanetta Williams is president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch and the NAACP Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah.