Growing Up Low-Income Turned Me into an Advocate for Clean Energy
Sunrun Team· 3
I learned the importance of energy savings from a very early age. My parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico in their late teens and started from scratch. Working multiple jobs, they pinched pennies wherever they could, especially with the electricity bill.
My younger brother and I lived under an extremely strict code of energy efficiency as soon as I was tall enough to reach the light switch:
- Rule #1. Use minimal light unless necessary (reading and homework were exceptions!).
- Rule #2.Turn off all lights when vacating a room.
- Rule #3. Don’t leave the fridge open too long.
- Rule #4. Limit television use.
- Rule #5. Avoid turning on the air conditioner or heater at all costs.
That last one was the hardest, since cold winters were the worst. I recall waking up in the early morning, shivering and dreading the moment I would have to shed my layers to get ready for school. It was only when the weather got extra chilly that my brother and I were allowed to huddle around the plug-in heater to thaw out.
Our story is not unique in America. More than 11 million households across the country are severely cost-burdened and pay more than half their monthly income for rent and utilities. Most often, the harmful effects of climate change, such as extreme heat and cold, are felt worst in vulnerable and low-income communities. Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Almost two million Latinos live within a half mile of existing oil and gas operations. As a result of this proximity to pollution an African American or Latino child is twice as likely to die from an asthma attack as a white American child. My brother suffered from acute asthma growing up, causing my parents heartbreak to see him suffer and stress when they had to skip work to take care of him. Fortunately, he overcame it but not everyone does.
“By 2028, Sunrun expects to install at least 100MW of solar energy projects, bringing savings and clean energy to 50,000 working and low-income families for zero upfront costs. Something that would have made a huge difference for my family!”
For these families, access to clean, affordable energy is about more than saving money on electricity. It’s also having to spend additional money on the resulting health conditions. My family’s struggle has inspired me to become an advocate for low-income communities, starting with a fellowship at The Greenlining Institute, an organization focused on racial and economic justice policy, including energy and environmental equity. Now at Sunrun, I work to ensure that families in need have access to clean, affordable local energy. Sunrun’s commitment to expand into the affordable multifamily housing market will increase financial security for families across California. By 2028, Sunrun expects to install at least 100MW of solar energy projects, bringing savings and clean energy to 50,000 working and low-income families for zero upfront costs. Something that would have made a huge difference for my family!
I’m proud that my home state of California has pioneered forward-looking policies such as Senator Kevin De Leon’s 100% carbon-free electricity legislation, the California Energy Commission’s solar on new homes mandate, and the most significant to me are those that have opened the door for clean energy innovation in low income communities. The California Public Utilities Commission’s Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) and Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) programs provide financial incentives -- up to $100 million annually for SOMAH -- for the installation of solar on multifamily affordable housing properties in low-income and disadvantaged communities throughout California.
My parents taught me a lot, especially about the importance of energy conservation. I keep them in mind every day as I work hard to ensure that more parents, like mine, can afford their bills and provide for their kids. In fact, as I write this blog, Sunrun is working to put solar on my home. I love that I’m converting my home into a mini power plant that will enable me to adjust the temperature as my kids need without worrying about my bill. I never want my kids to be too cold to change out of their pajamas, or go to bed without a warm dinner in their tummies. I want this to be the norm for all families. And with the solar industry's focus on affordable solar, it's in reach!