Gilbert Campbell, co-founder and CEO of Volt Energy and Maurice Muia, Richmond Heights Councilman

Gilbert Campbell, co-founder and CEO of Volt Energy and Maurice Muia, Richmond Heights Councilman.

Activists see Nov. 3 election as chance to narrow ‘climate wealth’ gap 

“Clean energy is benefiting communities of color not only by reducing air pollution, but also providing good jobs,” said Bob Pashos, a climate activist who works for Straight Up Solar, a local company that installs solar panels. “That is why folks are supporting Biden, who is advocating a major expansion of clean energy.”

The Clean Energy for Biden (CE4B) network acknowledges the disproportionate impact climate change and pollution have on Black communities and other minority communities. Richmond Heights Councilman Maurice Muia said that’s a particularly important issue in the St. Louis region.

 “Under the Biden plan, he talks about how he would like to focus on communities where there are high concentrations of people of color ­— especially those who have been disadvantaged for a long time,” Muia said. “We live in St. Louis — we know the ills of policies of the past that have impacted St. Louis. Specifically on clean energy, it’s an opportunity to train and rebuild communities.”

Muia, who is also an electrical engineer, said St. Louis needs to prepare for the clean energy of the future by ensuring all newly constructed buildings are compatible with solar panels and edging toward mass use of electrical vehicles.

“Hopefully we can do that through the county and throughout the whole state of Missouri,” Muia said. “But I know where we live, and that's going to take some time.”

Gilbert Campbell, co-founder and CEO of Volt Energy, pointed to health disparities such as Black children are three times more likely than white children to suffer from asthma – and a disparity in a little-known area called “climate wealth.”

“The communities that have benefited the least from environmental policy and things like that should be at the front line of benefiting from the climate revolution in our country — which has really going on through the last 10 years — and that hasn't happened,” Campbell said. “So there needs to be more African-American solar firms that are thriving.”

To get to that point, Campbell argued, Fortune 500 companies and entities such as universities are going to have to intentionally seek out Black-owned companies when searching for long-term clean energy solutions.

“That's important, as a developer, when we sign a power purchase agreement (PPA), that's a 20-year agreement that the client is going to buy electricity from us, so that creates real wealth,” Campbell.

“You're getting residual income for 20 years. You know most of the Fortune 500 companies have signed record numbers of PPAs, but a very low percentage with African American developers.”

Muia and Pashos emphasized the need for long-terms plans and goals that are acted on immediately – for both how to involve communities of color and to slow the negative effects of climate change. Muia said it’s all about making investments in the future now, even if the returns take a little longer than people would like.

“We need to make sure that schools are where they need to be, because when you make that investment at age five, you don't see that return until age 18, at the very least, and then you see a much larger return at age 20, 21, 22, by the time someone graduates with their bachelor’s,” Muia said. “So, it takes time to see that return.”

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