New Bedford, a former industrial and whaling town in eastern Massachusetts, hasn’t seen much economic prosperity since the early 20th century, the peak of the textile industry. But community leaders hope their town can be the center of a green economy boom, and locals have taken it upon themselves to drum up demand.
Last year, a team of community organizers knocked on 3,000 doors, urging homeowners and small businesses to commit to energy audits and energy-efficiency improvements. Community organizers also founded a minority-owned green company to do the weatherization work and to help locals prepare their homes for efficiency upgrades—for instance, replacing old wiring so they can install insulation. The project is partly financed by a public utility, in response to state energy mandates.
Communities across the country are creating green jobs from the ground up, financed by consumer demand, utility fees, some creative new funding models, and a combination of federal, state, and local money. In Oakland, Calif., an organization called Solar Mosaic is “crowdfunding” solar power. For $100, anyone can buy a share in one of several planned solar projects, to be installed atop community buildings. “You just cut out Wall Street,” says Jakada Imani, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a partner organization of Solar Mosaic. “You can just go to the people in the community to fund it.”
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The Ella Baker Center and a coalition of community groups have also successfully pushed the city to investigate whether more green-jobs financing could come from a public fund generated by consumer fees paid to Pacific Gas and Electric. Twenty-two states require energy utilities to maintain similar funds, according to the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The coalition believes that Oakland’s share of the fund could help finance the city’s greenhouse-gas reduction plan, which aims to slash carbon emissions 36 percent below 2005 levels in the next decade.
Nearly one million Americans worked in resource-efficiency and renewable-energy jobs in 2010, according to the Brookings Institution. But with federal support lagging, it may take some creative state and local financing to spur the clean energy economy, especially in places with high unemployment and little spare cash, like New Bedford.
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