man looking at sunrise

Black Lives Matter and Building Equity and Diversity in the Clean Energy Sector: A personal note from Sharon Pillar, Founder and Executive Director, PA Solar Center

All of us at the PA Solar Center are heartbroken and incensed by the recent police brutality and gruesome murders of Black Americans – George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Antwon Rose and the endless list of Black people across the country whose names we will never even know. But, these are not just recent events. Police brutality, prejudice, racial targeting, systemic racism, and White supremacy in all of its forms are tightly woven into every level of our society designed to keep Black, Indigenous and People of Color –and those people with disabilities or who are non-binary and all the many other ‘Others’- from gaining power to participate fully in our society.
I am a White mother who watches with gut-wrenching fear. Will my 19-year-old Brown son -who has avoided getting a driver’s license due to the fear of being stopped by racist cops- be next to perish from this disease of racism? What opportunities will be denied of him to become his full self because of the color of his skin? What can I do to make my corner of the world better for all people of color? How can I use my White privilege for good rather than to perpetuate the cycle?
I honestly don’t have the answer, but I do know that I can do better to be anti-racist as Pittsburgh Youth Josiah Davis wisely calls us non-Black allies to do in his open letter (please read it!). I will keep stumbling toward the answers both personally and professionally with the goal to do better so our world is more just and equitable, and the new clean energy world is more diverse.
As the PA Solar Center gets our legs under us, we have a chance to do better from the start. We look forward to hearing your suggestions about how we can work to build a more just organization and how to create more equitable energy systems which is at the core of our mission. That must include safe energy that doesn’t harm communities, health, workers or our ecosystems and climate. That must include solar energy programs that help everyone reap the benefits and include solar access for people who have inadequate incomes. That must include getting more large-scale solar on our grid because solar can then start shaving peak demand, which lowers the cost of electricity for everyone, not just those who have installed solar. That must include a just transition to help fossil fuel workers find new jobs as coal plants go out of business – and jobs for urban communities that have suffered the most from fossil fuel pollution and who have lacked access to energy jobs of the past. That must include increasing our policies to move to at least 10% solar by 2030 so that our economy can rebound by attracting billions of dollars in private investment, add more than 65,000 jobs and boost local and state revenues – and to be sure that those benefits and opportunities are spread equitably across the state’s communities. That must also include a workforce and energy company owners that look different from the traditional fossil fuel industry of primarily White males. We cannot replace a dirty energy system that enriches a few with a clean energy paradigm that also excludes the majority of people.
As a baby step, the PA Solar Center signed a joint letter with 30 Pittsburgh-based environmental and social justice groups calling for racial justice and responsibility. And we’d like to do better. Please help us as we strive to:
  • Establish board policies that encourage participation on our governing board from professionals who are interested in the clean energy field and who bring gender, racial, cultural, physical ability and age diversity. We are building our new Board of Directors and we are including diversity language in our Bylaws We have also reserved a slot for at least one college student Board member so we can glean the Youth perspective and provide experience to them to build leadership skills. We are still seeking at least two additional board members and ask for your help to suggest diverse candidates.
  • Increase our chances of hiring diverse candidates. We will be posting a job description soon for a communications & membership coordinator and possibly another position. To increase our chances of finding and hiring diverse candidates, we will focus recruitment to organizations and outlets that have higher pools of diverse candidates rather than rely solely on our constituent base that is predominantly White. We appreciate your help in spreading the word once the job description is posted.
  • Continue to work to help non-profits in under-resourced communities to go solar so they can spend more of their resources on serving their communities. We also know that when people see solar in their communities, they are more likely to want to go solar or work in that field. Exposure to clean energy helps to build interest in young people for careers in the field.
  • Keep pushing policies to expand renewable energy goals so that Pennsylvania will actually have a robust solar market with tens of thousands of job opportunities across multiple sectors and educational levels.
  • Help to lift up and expand existing programs occurring across the state such as the Philadelphia Energy Authority’s Bright Solar Futures Training program to expose high school students to solar careers and POWER’s Black Work Matters: Green Jobs report to expand clean energy job opportunities to non-traditional energy workers.
  • Create resources and support policies that promote solar access for everyone. Look for our Solar for All webpage soon that will highlight what we can do in our state to build a clean energy system that works for all Pennsylvanians.
These are only a few steps. We know we can do better, and we will continue to expand our thinking and our efforts.
With hope for humanity that we will collectively unleash the power that diversity and inclusion provides our whole society and through that effort will create more safe and love-filled communities and relationships with one another.
Sharon Pillar
Founder and Director
Pennsylvania Solar Center