People Power

Why We Must Include Our Comunidad in the Growing Green Economy: Clean Energy Jobs, Lower Energy Costs, and a Healthier Climate Future

May 31, 2024

Elena Gaona, Chispa Communications Director

In this article:

Originally published by Chispa and republished with permission. 

I recently had the honor of visiting the White House during Earth Month and participating in the Roundtable on Latino Economic Empowerment Through Climate Action. The roundtable discussed the historic (in scope and size) number of clean energy investments being made into the U.S. economy right now, and how our Latine communities can be part of this fast-growing green economy. In representing Chispa, I joined two dozen other climate leaders and influencers, plus key Biden-Harris administration and staff, for the discussion.

It was not lost on many of us in the room that “we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” as my seat partner, Isabel Gonzalez Whitaker, Associate Vice President at Moms Clean Air Force and Director of EcoMadres, said. “I thought so much of my mother and her dreams as an advocate for Latino economic empowerment (having come from Cuba with nothing, struggling to start a business, ultimately becoming a voice for the community) and how much she was with me in that room.”

My own story is that my mother, an immigrant from Mexico, cleaned houses for decades in Dallas. She eventually became a successful small business owner with my father, and they also served as leaders in the community. But how do we include more families and communities into the middle class and beyond, out of “barely making it”?

We have a monumental opportunity, right now, to bring everyone along into a new green economy that offers dignified good green jobs, lower household costs and reliable energy, and clear benefits to our health and the planet on top of that.

With the Affordable Clean Energy Plan front and center, the Biden-Harris administration has done more to protect our climate and move environmental solutions forward than any other administration in American history.

At the White House Roundtable we discussed this opportunity, and the moment we have to change the course for generations to come.

Credit: Elena Gaona

Good News: There are Clean Energy Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

When we discussed how the green economy can be inclusive of the Latine community, the first thing we discussed was jobs. With announcements such as $7B in grants for the Solar for All program, communities have the opportunity to develop solar projects that will offer clean and reliable energy in their homes. This will offer families more stable prices for their energy, but “the beauty of it,” as a senior administration official put it, is that it also creates well-paying jobs. The large influx of investments is also an opportunity for this green economy sector to be developed sustainably with fair wages, labor standards, and equity.

The Affordable Clean Energy Plan (the climate investments in the Inflation Reduction Act)  amounts to $369 billion! These resources are being invested in solar and wind all across the U.S., clean transportation, clean energy manufacturing of batteries and other products, and more. The plan is comprehensive and includes many elements important to Latine communities:

  • Community Change Grants fund environmental and climate justice activities to benefit impacted communities through projects that reduce pollution, increase community climate resilience, and build community capacity to address environmental and climate justice challenges.

  • Direct pay is a program where tax-exempt and governmental entities – such as school districts, local governments, Tribes, territories, and nonprofits – can receive up-front payments to help fund qualifying clean energy projects. These include community solar projects to bring clean energy to neighborhood families; geothermal heating; electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure; and clean vehicles for city fleets.

  • The Justice40 Initiative establishes the goal that 40 percent of the benefits of climate, clean energy, affordable and sustainable housing, and other investments in the Affordable Clean Energy Plan, must go to communities dealing most with underinvestment and pollution.

All of the clean energy projects being created through these historic investments mean jobs for electricians, mechanics, construction workers, technicians, support staff, and thousands of others. Since the Affordable Clean Energy Plan became law in 2022, companies have announced a total of 271,713 new jobs related to 523 new clean energy projects, and over $352 billion in investments across the U.S., according to Climate Power.

Latine workers are well represented in the clean energy and clean transportation sectors, and our numbers are growing. Latine workers represent nearly 17 percent of the clean energy workforce. And within the solar installation space alone, roughly one-third of the workers are Latine (31.7%).

Finally, the American Climate Corps, a service and workforce training initiative designed to employ youth in addressing climate impacts and building local resilience, will hire 20,000 people, according to the White House. The program represents an excellent opportunity to engage our Latine youth in skill-building in the climate space.

Our families have many opportunities to get into and stay in the middle class with all these jobs and internships for new careers – all while promoting clean air, clean water and a better environment.

Credit: Elena Gaona

Cost Savings: The Other Economic Benefit under the Affordable Clean Energy Plan

During conversations with climate leaders at the White House, I shared that my teacher friend in Texas received a $900 electric bill in January! Many of the families and communities Chispa works with across the country are finding their skyrocketing utility bills unaffordable. Chispa NV members have even told us they have to choose between utility bills or food or medicine. This is not right.

Current tax incentives under the Affordable Clean Energy Plan mean cost savings (in the form of tax rebates or tax credits, plus lower energy bills) for your family when you make clean energy changes such as conducting a home energy audit, upgrading your appliances or installing a heat pump to lower energy cost.

The Affordable Energy Plan does two things: it makes it more affordable to install clean energy in your home, with small investments like the more energy efficient appliances, or funding for bigger solutions we know work such as solar panels, and it then means your family has cheaper and more reliable energy for many years to come = real cost savings to your family.

In the End, Hope for a Better Future for our Children

Many of us at the White House gathering, and in this work, became environmentalists because we want to leave a better world for future generations.

Many of our Latine communities and children face greater health risks than others because of polluting facilities or interstates nearby. And in many of our most polluted cities, our kids are growing up with push notifications about dirty air, or seeing flares from refineries constantly burning. Members of our Chispa TX community are fighting for real solutions such as holding Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) facilities accountable for their pollution and they tell us that teens there aren’t seeing better futures for themselves unless they leave their community, or join the only industry in town: Big Oil and Gas jobs.

We owe our children better. We owe it to them to lower greenhouse gasses, and to continue our path to a cleaner future.

We know the power of change. Chispa has worked for years on the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign, successfully replacing dirty diesel buses with clean electric buses in school districts around the country, and making breathing a whole lot easier for our Latine children. Thanks to the collaborative work of many communities and organizations, more than 400 school districts now have electric school buses. Chispa also leads the Alliance for Electric School Buses, a diverse coalition united by our commitment to fully transition the nation’s school bus fleet to electric.

And now the success stories of clean jobs, clean energy, and a better economy mean we are giving hope and inspiration to our families and comunidades that there is indeed a better way to do business, and it means a better future, plus cleaner air, water, land and a healthier environment for all. We’re literally saving the planet, and saving money.

Coalitions such as the one gathered in the room that day, and all of us working together, give us hope that we have what it takes for a better future. Join us. We can’t afford to miss this opportunity, and we need you.