Special thanks to Everette Bradford (D.C. Department of Energy and Environment), Francis Calpotura (In-Advance), Dan Guilbeault (D.C. Department of Energy and Environment), Jonathan Hutto, Sr. (Empower D.C.), Ed Lazere (D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute), and Yesenia Rivera (Solar United Neighbors) for sharing your story
100% Cities Project – Team Washington D.C.
Throughout the nation, local municipalities are making commitments to transition energy consumption to clean and renewable sources within the next several decades. As we look to build renewable energy systems it is critical that the process is guided by racial equity, otherwise the systemic bias inherent in current renewable energy production will continue to contribute to inequitable outcomes across race, class, gender, environment, and other markers.
Race Forward founded the 100% Cities Initiative in collaboration with the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (a project of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network) and the Solutions Project. Three local sites in Atlanta, Seattle, and Washington D.C. are participating in this project; each site has community-based partners and local government partners. This project works to bring these important stakeholders together to co-create a progressive path toward creating clean energy that is accessible and inclusive to all communities, especially communities of color. Race Forward’s hope is that the project will provide local models that are replicable for other locations across the country.
This post will highlight the energy democracy collaboration between Empower D.C., Solar United Neighbors, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, and the Washington D.C. Department of Energy and Environment, and their work in ensuring the infusion and total integration of racial equity into the ideology, planning, and implementation of D.C.’s renewable energy future.
Third space in Practice
The 100% Cities effort began in Washington D.C. when Race Forward asked Empower D.C., D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, Solar United Neighbors, and the Department of Energy and Environment to work in partnership in order to create a process that centers racial equity in moving toward 100% renewables. Prior to this project, a number of the project partners had never worked together and were optimistic yet cautious about the efficacy of such a collaboration. However, the D.C. team quickly arrived at a place of engaging in honest conversations. They made a commitment to work together and recognize each other’s strengths and power, and they ultimately moved toward a common goal and outcome of working with community to develop equitable strategies for 100% renewables.
This process of building relationships among the D.C. team is the foundation to creating a third space based on the work of Francis Calpotura, Founder and Executive Director of In-Advance. Calpotura encourages strategic partnerships between community and government in order to achieve a goal of 100% renewable energy with racial equity at the center. Instead of partnerships between government and community groups that have historically been transactional and episodic, he argues that these relationships should instead be transformational – defining a transformational relationship as one that is ongoing, operating by equity principles, focusing on co-creation, utilizing a clear division of labor, and recognizing the need for community to inform policies, practices, and priorities of government. This kind of partnership between government and community creates the opportunity to build what Calpotura calls a “third space,” a strategic interface between community and government. In this context, creating a third space means building public trust and improving systemic outcomes by establishing and nurturing a space to improve strategic partnership. Calpotura encourages breaking down the silos between community and government so that community can be engaged in a meaningful way.
Over the course of this project and through the process of building third space, the D.C. team has identified principles to support the growth in their relationships. Below are some of their reflections: learned the following:
- Co-creating requires clarity on direction and outcome: When working in collaboration, the team emphasized the necessity of coming to consensus around the vision and end outcome of the project. The outcome and collective vision is what has anchored the team and has motivated them to continue working together and building relationships with one another.
- Unity is a priority, but does not necessitate uniformity (inspired by the late Imamu Baraka): While the team hasn’t been in complete agreement about everything, they named the importance of sharing common principles and values. One value grounding the work is the necessity of centering grassroots democracy, which reaffirms and reassures the building, supporting, and learning from the actors on the ground.
- The different styles, skills, and strengths of team members enhance energy democracy work: The team is able to support one another with the skills and strengths they each bring to this project, whether it’s data analysis, historical and current knowledge of local policies, technical understanding of energy democracy, or strong community engagement and organizing skills.
- Honesty, transparency, and trust is the foundation to relationship-building: The team has found that open and genuine conversations have led to clarity of roles and understanding of each individual’s capacity and skills. This foundation of transparency has helped the team dive deeper into conversations, providing them with clarity around the limitations of each individual, but also the ability to push and challenge one another in a safe space.
- The process is just as important as the outcome: As organizations and agencies that do not have prior experience working together, the team finds that it is important to take the time to build relationships, to have flexibility around the project, and to not rush the process.
- Embracing tension leads to opportunities: The team has used instances of tension and disagreement to explore learning opportunities and to better understand one another. These conversations have led the team to grow together by identifying a pathway forward rather than creating division.
As the City of D.C. works to mitigate the challenges of gentrification for marginalized people and the affects it has on local clean energy, it’ll be important to continue practicing the above principles and to hold one another accountable to growing their relationships further.
Progress to Date and Next Steps for the D.C. Team
The Washington D.C. team has been meeting on a monthly basis and will continue to work together to center community members throughout the process of moving toward 100% renewable energy while identifying the intersections of race and renewable energy. One way that the team is centering community knowledge is through their Community Engagement Plan. In the fall of 2018 during their Equity and Renewable Energy trainings, twenty activists and advocates emerged to move the Community Engagement Plan forward. In the upcoming months, they will facilitate discussions around racial equity with the vision of building community power to influence two pieces of local legislation. First, the D.C. Team identified the Racial Equity Bill (B23-0038-Racial Equity Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2019), which was introduced in January 2019, as an opportunity to work together to ensure that the city lives up to its promises of advancing racial equity in a meaningful way. Moving forward, the D.C. Team seeks to influence the implementation of the Distributed Energy Resources Authority Act of 2018 to ensure that the legislation benefits residents in lower income brackets who are the most energy-burdened in the city.
In order to build the community power necessary to influence these policies, the team’s goal is to engage at least a thousand D.C. residents in conversations around racial equity asking them questions such as:
- What does racial equity mean to you?
- What does D.C. need to do to get there?
- How has racial inequity potentially impacted and/or affected you?
Through this work, the team leverages their skills and knowledge to promote racial equity in their work to move toward 100% renewable energy. The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute continues to provide the qualitative and quantitative data that provides the foundation of research for this work. They recently published a report that identifies recommendations for how to budget for racial equity. Solar United Neighbors has been working on their Solar for All Program to install solar systems among lower-income home owners and transform residents from consumers to energy producers. They also recently released their analysis of the impact D.C.’s 2020 budget would have on utility costs and the devastating affects it would have on low-income communities. Empower D.C. continues to mobilize and organize communities with the goal of building grassroots democracy. They’ve conducted trainings on equity and renewable energy, and are building the skills and capacity of local residents to lead the organizing efforts themselves. And lastly, the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment provides context and updates on policies and programs related to sustainability and 100% renewables.
In addition, there will be a community teach-in on racial equity and energy democracy. It is the D.C. team’s hope that D.C.’s Racial Equity Bill requires a thorough equity analysis of all major programs and policies, and of every new legislative or budget proposal. This framework will strengthen the City’s focus as it moves forward with requirements to move toward 100% renewable energy, to implement a Green Bank, and other environmental initiatives. In addition, the momentum garnered at this teach-in will be leveraged throughout this upcoming summer and fall to help make the Racial Equity Bill the strongest and most reparative law for Black and Brown residents who rightly deserve justice and equity the most.
For more information please contact Empower D.C. Community Organizer Jonathan W. Hutto at (202) 234-9119 Ext. 110 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Links and Sources
- D.C. Policy Fiscal Institute: https://www.dcfpi.org/
- D.C. Department of Energy and Environment: https://doee.dc.gov/
- Empower D.C.: http://empowerdc.org/
- In-Advance: in-advance.org
- Solar United Neighbors: https://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/