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Dallas Morning News: “Clean energy can be a lifeline for low-income Texans”

We appreciate the leadership of the EPA, the main driver of this clean energy train focused on equity.

Federal law will make solar panels and other energy-related upgrades a realistic option.

Sometimes Congress passes laws that don’t trickle down and affect our daily lives. This is not one of those times.

Millions of federal dollars are headed to Texas for game-changing clean energy projects. As part of the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year, this funding will create jobs, save people money and fight the climate crisis.

It’s hard to convey the magnitude of this opportunity for our state, but let’s give it a shot.

Right now, about 4 million Texans struggle with high energy costs. A Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey showed that almost 45% of Texans had to skip some expenses like food and medicine to cover their energy bills. This is much higher than the national average, even in a state that generates so much of its own electricity.

We’re still paying the bills from the 2021 winter storm, and the most recent Texas legislative session failed to produce any significant electricity cost savings. Despite Texans’ strong desire for more clean energy, lawmakers failed to pass meaningful expansions of solar, wind, energy efficiency or battery storage.

Extreme weather patterns are becoming more frequent due to climate change, and we are not prepared. This summer is already forcing people to pay high electricity bills.

This energy burden falls disproportionately on Texans of color and lower-income Texans. They have to put a larger and larger share of their incomes toward energy costs, and they don’t have all the backup options that wealthier Texans may have.

Oil and methane gas pollution have long disproportionately harmed Black and Hispanic residents, as shown by a study from the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Paying higher prices for energy that makes us even sicker is a cruel irony.

The good news is that new funding from the Environmental Protection Agency will make solar panels, efficient lighting and air conditioning, insulation and other upgrades realistic options for low- and moderate-income Texans.

New funding mechanisms as part of the Inflation Reduction Act will let home and business owners borrow money at very low rates to pay for solar panels and use the energy cost savings to pay back the loans.

The IRA’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund sets aside $27 billion to support clean energy and transportation technology. Of this amount, $7 billion will go to the Solar for All program to fast-track solar power and energy storage in low- and moderate-income communities. The other $20 billion is for a variety of decarbonization strategies with at least 40% set aside for disadvantaged communities.

The Clean Energy Fund of Texas, along with partners at the Coalition of Green Capital and Houston Advanced Research Center, has set up a statewide consortium of groups to apply for and obtain funding through the GGRF.

The Historically Black Colleges and Universities Climate Change Consortium, housed at Texas Southern University, helps raise awareness and find solutions to the disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized and underserved communities. The goal is to develop a new generation of HBCU student leaders, scientists, practitioners and advocates on environmental, climate and energy justice through community-university partnerships and business collaboratives.

What will all this look like? Factories and assembly plants will use low-interest loans to replace their outdated, inefficient lighting systems with LEDs. Mosques, synagogues, churches and HBCUs, which have a long history of being left out and left behind, will be able to add solar panels to their roofs, using the cost savings to cover their financing.

Small businesses will be able to upgrade their aging heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to keep workers comfortable and protect merchandise, all the while helping fight climate change. Disadvantaged communities will be able to harden their resiliency from extreme weather events and brownouts through the buildout of community solar and battery projects.

And let’s not forget the jobs. From high-tech battery development to solar panel installation and HVAC maintenance, there are thousands of jobs headed our way thanks to this clean energy shift.

Making sure the green economy is accessible to all Texans is perhaps the most important element of the Inflation Reduction Act. EPA partners like the Clean Energy Fund of Texas, a “green bank” launched last year in Houston, will seamlessly connect people with these new resources. People who have historically been left out of the clean energy economy will get extra attention.

We appreciate the leadership of the EPA, the main driver of this clean energy train focused on equity.

Texas has always been an energy state, but that doesn’t mean oil and gas have to rule the economy forever. We have countless energy institutes, engineering programs, research labs and innovators. As technology evolves and we take big steps to address climate change, Texas can make the logical transition to being the country’s clean energy leader and begin reversing the disastrous legacy of emissions that have disproportionately impacted Black and brown Texans.

Robert D. Bullard is distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy and director of the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University. Stephen K. Brown II is chairman of the Clean Energy Fund of Texas.

This column originally ran in The Dallas Morning News on July 6, 2023.