This era is marked by the urgency of climate change and the resulting imperative need for equitable and sustainable solutions. The creation of the Clean Energy Local Exchange, catalyzed by NYSERDA’s announcement of New York’s third offshore wind solicitation (OREC-3), presents a tangible beacon of hope for residents and small/diverse businesses in rural, suburban, and urban communities across New York State. If realized, this initiative has the unprecedented power to revolutionize our energy landscape while mitigating the historical inequities faced by underrepresented populations in the supply chain, workforce, and community benefit investment deployment. At the core of this meaningful endeavor is the substantial inclusion and integration of the local community through clear communication and authentic engagement. A just transition requires equitable access to education and workforce pathways, allowing disadvantaged communities to leverage opportunities generated by the transition to clean energy most effectively. The Clean Energy Local Exchange is a considerable and quantifiable commitment to environmental justice (EJ) communities, offering an inimitable opportunity to rectify historical injustice while laying the foundation for a cleaner, fairer future.
At its heart, an environmental justice community embodies the stark reality of social, economic, and environmental disparities. These are the neighborhoods where the air is thick with pollutants, where water sources are tainted, where the residents face health challenges at rates unthinkable, and lack of economic mobility. The Clean Energy Local Exchange, emphasizing anchoring within EJ communities, acknowledges the need for targeted intervention in these areas. It recognizes that a just transition to clean energy cannot be achieved without addressing the deep-seated issues these communities face. This rising tide lifts all boats and, in this situation, increases the quality of life factors for all.
We recently partnered with Attentive Energy One to propose a $4.5 Million investment in the Clean Energy Local Exchange to be physically and digitally anchored across all 10 of New York State economic development regions with five anchored “local exchanges” that would be based collaboratively within community-based locations representing the unique characteristics of each region. Each local exchange will amplify the voices of local stakeholders to help guide industry to local needs. This effort will recruit, educate, and refer New York residents to supply chain and workforce pathways. These funds will support local content compliance solutions that will provide small/diverse businesses entering the offshore wind supply chain with capacity-building opportunities, networking and pre-qualification support, and connections to prime and subcontractors throughout the State. The funds will also include wraparound services for residents from Disadvantaged Communities across New York State based on three key pillars: a childcare initiative, a database designed to increase access to contracting opportunities for small and diverse businesses, and a youth leadership program that uses sports clinics to teach intergenerational climate education. In addition, our efforts will provide a front-row pass to clean jobs, contracts, programs, events, grants and partnership opportunities. An example of those efforts include the proposed creation of The New York State Supply Chain Development Partnership (the SCDP) a collaborative initiative between the Long Island-based Institute for Workforce Advancement (IWA), Albany-based Center for Economic Growth (CEG), and the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to conduct grassroots outreach with a connected strategy across New York State. SCDP will fund representatives from each organization, including new local direct hires to manage the initiative, as they engage at the community level with organizations that represent small and diverse businesses in their respective regions. The representatives will inform and educate about offshore wind opportunities, providing clear timelines for the AE1 Project and filling a key information and technical support gap. AE1 intends to allocate a large portion of those dollars towards establishing a multi-million-dollar community fund as an opportunity for small diverse businesses to apply for grants or short-term loans to support their efforts to ramp up their capabilities to serve the offshore wind market.
A truly equitable approach to clean energy must extend far beyond the installation of wind turbines and solar panels. It must encompass a holistic understanding of the challenges faced by residents. It must, as this initiative promises to do, meet people where they are. This means ensuring that the transition to clean energy is not an isolated effort but a comprehensive initiative that touches every aspect of community life. From providing access to childcare and transportation to addressing food disparities and healthcare needs, the Clean Energy Local Exchange exemplifies a people-centric approach to environmental progress. By prioritizing wraparound services, this initiative recognizes that the path to environmental justice is inseparable from the overall quality of life. It acknowledges that access to clean energy alone is insufficient if the residents of EJ communities continue to grapple with daily challenges that diminish their well-being. Thus, it stands as a testament to the understanding that true sustainability encompasses social and economic dimensions as much as it does environmental ones.
In embracing the creation of the Clean Energy Local Exchange, we are not just heralding a new era in clean energy production. We are endorsing a philosophy—one that values justice, equality, and the inherent worth of every individual. As we move forward, let us rally behind initiatives like these, ensuring that they not only thrive but also multiply. Let us stand united in the pursuit of a world where clean energy is not a privilege but a right, and where environmental justice is not an ideal but a reality. The Clean Energy Local Exchange, rooted in the principles of equity and compassion, beckons us toward this brighter, more just future. It is our collective responsibility to answer that call and transform it into a lived truth for all.
-Glenn O. Vickers II, Managing Director of supplier diversity and infrastructure development firm MRV Group.