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By Emily Peterson, Summer Intern 2019

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At the Honnold Foundation, we believe the people most affected by climate change are those already disadvantaged in some way because of factors like race, income, and gender. Increasing energy access using solar can help change the trajectory of climate change worldwide while increasing resiliency and power on a community level. 

The community of Adjuntas celebrating a solar-powered future for Puerto Rico. Photo by Ruben Salgado Escudero

Typically, regions that have boomed economically have done so at a high environmental cost: burning coal to power factories, clearcutting forests and draining wetlands to build homes and shopping centers, and using gasoline to fuel cars. In areas that have not undergone this economic boom, an opportunity exists to change the parallel relationship between economic growth and environmental degradation. In Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, the Honnold Foundation is partnering with Casa Pueblo, a community-based organization focused on environmental conservation and sustainable development, to create a community-owned solar microgrid.

Powered by solar energy since 1999, Casa Pueblo understands the power of solar to drive economic and environmental change. In Adjuntas, businesses typically spend about a third of their operational costs on energy. “Energy independence means that people will be able to produce their own energy for their own productive activities… instead of paying someone else” says Arturo Massol-Deyá, Associate Director of Casa Pueblo. “And when they’re doing that, we’re promoting economic activation. Now we can talk about dealing with poverty levels in the area… And the beauty of this is that instead of us generating greenhouse gases and hurting nature that eventually pays back with hurricanes or droughts or other issues related to climate change, now we can reduce our ecological footprint.” 

A volunteer installer at work on a GRID Alternatives project in the Navajo Nation. Photo by Irene Yee.

For longtime Honnold Foundation partner GRID Alternatives, solar education also has measurable social justice implications. In addition to installing solar on homes to reduce energy costs and dependence on electric utilities, the organization teaches community members how to install and repair solar panels themselves. A similar model is in the works with a new Foundation partner, the North End Woodward Community Coalition (NEWCC) in Detroit. Long after the initial solar panels are installed, members of these communities have technical skills that can continue to make their neighborhoods more self-sufficient and environmentally resilient. 

At the Honnold Foundation, we believe that solar energy can create a more equitable world– by increasing the economic resiliency of marginalized communities, supporting education and health for communities of color, and creating inexpensive power for homes who wouldn’t be able to pay for electricity otherwise. Increasing solar energy access is a powerful tool to address both environmental and social justice issues, and the Honnold Foundation partners with organizations who utilize solar to its full potential.