Solar 2021

Social/Environmental Justice Track: LMI Community Strategies

Session Moderator: Dara Bortman 

Access to renewable energy is a great social equalizer, and it is essential for accelerating the energy transformation needed to address the climate crisis. This session discusses a wide variety of successful approaches to making solar available to everyone regardless of economic status. These include repurposing decommissioned PV modules, enabling solar panel ownership for LMI homes, implementing utility owned community solar models, establishing no cost solar programs, and developing more versatile solar co-ops. The session also explores how students are helping individuals, and particularly LMI families and business, learn how to reduce carbon footprints and gain access to solar.


Aug 04 2021


10:45 am - 12:15 pm


East Ballroom


  • Kimberly Shields
    Kimberly Shields
    Director of Strategic Initiatives at Energy Outreach Colorado

    Kim Shields is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Energy Outreach Colorado, a nonprofit which has been dedicated to helping vulnerable Coloradans afford their home energy costs for over thirty years. Kim earned a BS/MS from CU Boulder and previously worked as an engineer before becoming a volunteer and board member of a nonprofit which launched several electricity access projects for off-grid communities. Her passion for clean energy and energy justice led her to Energy Outreach Colorado in 2019 where she developed a solar energy assistance program that launches this year in partnership with Xcel Energy.
    Presentation Title: Community Solar as Energy Assistance

    Presentation Description: This model of utility-owned community solar, in partnership with nonprofit organizations and human service agencies to serve low-income households, presents a solution for reaching hundreds or even thousands more households than was previously achieved with low-income carve outs or demonstration projects. By leveraging existing assistance and efficiency programs and their network of partners, the application burden on the household is reduced, and a full suite of services becomes available to ensure healthy, safe, and sustainable homes with affordable energy bills.

  • Mary Marshall
    Mary Marshall
    Solar Forward Program Manager at Solar Energy International

    Mary Marshall founded Solar Forward, first launching as a local program in Delta County, Colorado to respond to local coal mine closures. Mary experienced first-hand how transitioning mining communities were being left in dust, without resources or vision for a resilient future. Yet she realized they have so much to gain through local renewable energy adoption. Her relentless vision for resilient, rural communities fueled by clean energy brings evolving, innovative solutions and resources to local communities for free, with over 1.8 megawatts of DER across Colorado to date. Mary brings her experience as a professional organizer, a coach to electric cooperative organizing campaigns across the country, and a communications expert to the communities she’s working with and partners across the state. Mary has been involved with major news network shows like NBC’s Nightly News, MSNBC’s Live with Thomas Roberts, Dateline, as well as working with famed journalist Tom Brokaw in his research unit. Seeking a more direct route to combating climate change, Mary pivoted these communication skills to local outreach–starting with a foundation of a NABCEP certification following extensive training from SEI classes. Mary is also a professional community organizing coach–leading a nationwide fellowship on rural electric cooperative campaigns.
    Presentation Title: How solar markets in rural communities can aid in economic resilience and recovery

    Presentation Description: Rural communities are at a pivotal point in their energy history. So many rural communities are rooted in traditionally fossil fuel-based economies. Renewable energy can help these communities retain their energy-producing identities, and independence, however, in transition to the future. There are still so many challenges rural communities face in making this transition. So many big cities and states are making the pledge to go 100% renewable, but typical models like solar co-ops must be adapted to meet the unique needs and challenges of rural communities. These communities can benefit the most from the independence that a renewable energy market can bring, however, not all of the resources and attention on this transition are reaching rural regions. This program has worked in rural corners of the state of Colorado for over 5 years and brings case studies to the table with just some of these very unique challenges. To make sure rural communities are included in the 100% renewable transition, we have to keep elevating their voices.

  • Rich Strömberg
    Rich Strömberg
    Program Director, Faculty and Doctoral Student at Equitable Solar Solutions/Coldharbour Inst./Western Colo Univ/Univ Alaska Fairbanks

    After a career in semiconductor manufacturing, Rich went on to manage the State of Alaska solar energy program and wind energy program at Alaska Energy Authority. As part-time research faculty for Alaska Center for Energy and Power and adjunct lecturer at Western Colorado University, he worked with students to create Equitable Solar Solutions (ESS) to install reuse solar equipment for the benefit of low-income households and communities. Rich is presently pursuing an interdisciplinary doctoral degree at University of Alaska Fairbanks to combine the technical, social, ecological and sustainable business components of ESS into a regional and nationwide movement.
    Presentation Title: Equitable Solar Solutions: Closing the Social Equity and Ecology Gaps in Solar Energy’s Triple Bottom Line

    Presentation Description: Improved solar cell efficiencies have already created stockpiles of PV modules as businesses and homeowners seek to maximize rooftop-limited power generation. As power purchase agreements expire on the first utility-scale solar generating facilities in the next few years, there will be a tsunami of decommissioned PV modules and ancillary equipment headed to reclaim or the landfill. Since the highest value of these assets is still as power generating systems and low-income households struggle with a higher percentage of energy costs in their monthly bills, repurposing surplus equipment offers a viable path to make solar energy a true triple-bottom-line solution.

  • Sarah Townes
    Sarah Townes
    CFO & ZEN Director at American Solar Energy Society Inc

    I have worked as a singer running a small vocal school in Boulder for 25 years. In 2016 I wanted to get more involved in the environmental movement and started working in finance for ASES. In 2019 I started the Zero Emissions Network program for ASES, which has been a fast and deep dive into the teamwork, sweat, financing and magic that it takes to bring GhG emissions down as an individual or business. It’s fantastic work and I love it. This plus singing makes for the perfect professional life.
    Presentation Title: ZEN and the Art of Reducing our Carbon Footprint

    Presentation Description:Do you worry about your carbon footprint? Do you know the nuts and bolts of how to reduce your personal GhG emissions? Do you apply the knowledge that you do have into daily habits to minimize consumption and maximize contribution to the health of our environment? Do you help others to do so? If your answer to these was Yes, Not Really, Not Consistently and No, then you’ll understand why I started the Zero Emissions Network for ASES. This presentation is the story of my personal quest to turn my answers into No, Yes, Yes and Yes and how our amazing ZEN team and clients have succeeded. This session will not be a lecture but rather a conversation so… you’ve been forewarned.

  • Yesenia Rivera
    Yesenia Rivera
    Director of Energy Equity and Inclusion at Solar United Neighbors

    Yesenia has over ten years of experience in community development. She has a B.S. in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico-Cayey and a J.D. from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. During her time in law school, she began her journey working with low to moderate-income families as a Student Attorney in the Community Development Clinic. She enjoys working at Solar United Neighbors because she can combine her love of science and community development and expand access to solar energy.
    Presentation Title: How a Focus on Ownership Can Help Low- to Moderate-Income Solar Programs Provide Social Benefits and Promote a Just Transition.

    Presentation Description: In designing a program to provide solar for low-income residents, we wanted to ensure that the principles of energy democracy were at the center of it.

    Energy democracy offers a new way of thinking about our energy system and who it serves. With these principles in mind, we designed a program that allowed our participants to own their systems from day 1. Our program was designed to put solar on roofs and create local wealth and transform the energy system in the process.

    We will offer testimonials and concrete examples of the social benefits of solar ownership for LMI families.

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