Racial disparities are apparent when it comes to rooftop solar installation, researchers have reported. In Minnesota, there are efforts to close these gaps, and those involved point to the selection of three Twin Cities areas for a key project.
The Lake Street Council in Minneapolis and two other groups have been offered to join the Solar Energy Innovation Network, which is under the umbrella of the U.S. Energy Department. The network is designed to reduce barriers for underserved communities to adopt the technology.
Matt Kazinka, senior strategic initiatives manager for Lake Street Council, said its focus is on helping smaller BIPOC and immigrant-owned businesses in South Minneapolis.
“These businesses are the lifeblood of our community, but it is a struggle,” Kazinka said. “They put a lot on the line to just operate their business, and that means a lot of the time they don’t have the bandwidth and the resources to explore new ways of doing business or new opportunities.”
For solar access, a 2019 study that relied on census tracts found that Black residents have 69% fewer solar installations compared with non-racially diverse areas. The nonprofits will help owners navigate the process, including financing and working with companies that can establish trust in these communities. The other targeted corridors in the Twin Cities include West Broadway and University Avenue.
Terry Austin, community engagement manager of the Northside Economic Opportunities Network, will help to spur solar adoption along the West Broadway corridor. He said business owners and residents in disadvantaged neighborhoods are overlooked when it comes to renewable-energy education, and added that paves the way for bad actors to prey on these areas, creating more long-term harm.
“And when they’re taken advantage of on the technology, that can affect their business and their home. These things have more of a generational effect,” Austin said.
Kazinka added many of these businesses are in older buildings in need of upgrades and said the project could help them pursue energy efficiency at a time when solar costs are coming down, and government incentives are more readily available.
“We’re in a time right now where solar is becoming a better deal than it’s been in a long time because new federal legislation is making the tax credits more generous, we have more long-term certainty and [it’ll] be easier to access in a few different ways,” he said.
The local project is one of just eight nationwide recently selected to join the network.
Mike Moen is a writer for the Minnesota News Connection.