If history is any indication, the most successful revolutions are led by the people, for the people. Progress is not powered by division and our climate goals cannot be met if we don’t work together. It’s time to lower the barriers, distribute the benefits and invite everyone to get involved in restoring our world.
On October 7th, 2021 Nexamp CEO Zaid Ashai joined a keynote panel titled, “Collaboration For A Just Transition” with other industry leaders at Solar and Storage Finance USA to discuss making the transition to clean energy just and equal. It’s this mission that brought Zaid to Nexamp eight years ago. “My previous background had been in technology. I’d seen how the boom created enormous wealth but it also exacerbated economic and racial inequities. My fear with coming to clean energy was, ‘are we going to repeat the cycle?’ Unfortunately, in the early days of this clean energy transition, we see that we’re heading down that path. That doesn’t mean we’re doomed, but we have to make changes.”
Unlocking Community Solar For All
First things first, eliminate the barriers preventing the masses from getting involved. “Our products cannot be for the few that can afford them. For Nexamp to have a lasting impact across communities, we cannot leave anyone behind.” Zaid and the Nexamp team are working to support a cleaner world for all. Credit checks, long-term contracts and high up-front costs not only conflict with this mission, but also support a history of segregation. Zaid compared these practices to redlining, a mortgage related issue that plagued communities and targeted minorities for generations. “Unfortunately, if we think about residential solar and even community solar in the early days, there was that construct.” FICO scores were a general first step in assessing the reliability of any customer. In reality, what they did best was keep those with low-to-moderate incomes away from cost-saving benefits. “FICO scores are proven to have built-in systematic biases against black and brown communities. We were the first platform on a national basis to say ‘absolutely no FICO score and no long-term contracts’. When we build community solar projects, they are open to all, regardless of wealth, race, background, or household income.”
On top of being accessible, the projects need to reflect the communities they’re supporting. “The concerns for a black man, black woman, the Latino community, and a white family are all very different,” shared Zaid. “The challenge is you have to get to know each community well. Their concerns, their reservations, to make sure that you’re building the program to address each community separately with respect and dignity.” In an effort to further this mission, Nexamp joined forces with ComED in Illinois to launch Give-A-Ray, a 15-year program that allows eligible customers to receive community solar credits for free. Building on what once was a city landfill, Nexamp’s Rockford community solar farm is the first location that includes such a program and is a great step towards ensuring equitable access to clean energy.
Always looking forward,“by next year we’ll be building a new, state-of-the-art network operations center and expanding our footprint for other team members in Lawrence, Massachusetts,” shared Zaid. “It’s a gateway city and is known to be one of the poorest areas in all of the East Coast. This expansion enables us to recruit from a more diverse talent pool while providing much-needed employment opportunities for a community in need.” Clean energy does not operate based on city status, gender, education, credit score or background. The earth and her resources belong to each of us equally and Nexamp is focused on distributing the power and opportunity in a just manner.
Equalizing Clean Energy Opportunities
Not only are we trying to spread solar across the world, we want everyone to be involved. Our climate is in crisis and the more people working to lighten our carbon footprint, the better. Understanding a college degree is a barrier that keeps many applicants away, we’ve removed this requirement from job descriptions. Just like the sun, we are open to all. This revolution is going to take every hand. Now is not, nor was it ever, the time to keep people in the dark. “Unfortunately, there is no one action that is a panacea for the systemic racism that’s existed in our country for centuries, but it is the responsibility, in my opinion, of private companies to do their part and continue to push the envelope in a good manner, ” shared Zaid.” He and Robert Wallace, another panelist and Co-Founder of Power52, both grew up in Howard county, arguably one of the most diverse communities in the country. Throughout childhood, they were not sectioned off based on color or subjected to the outright racism other communities endured. “But once I left and went to Virginia Tech for undergrad, it was total segregation. People I grew up with felt like strangers across the quad,” shared Robert. Dividing people, making assumptions based on irrelevant factors, is not the way to equality. In fact, it drastically slows down our efforts in getting there. It’s education, inclusion and equity that matter the most. Nexamp understands this and encourages senior team members to lecture about the benefits of clean energy at community colleges, ensuring every student that they have a place in this industry. We share Robert’s belief that, “we need to be pouring into all communities to make sure they have the resources, the skills, training and access to the funding that can provide them a career in renewable energy.” Everyone, no matter where you’re from or what you do, deserves equity in this revolution.
It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. This phrase, echoed across the panel, signifies that change doesn’t just happen. It takes people standing up, speaking out and leading by example. We need to adapt and overcome, even if that exposes our own systemic biases. “You have to have representation because no matter how much you try to eliminate biases, there is a cultural familiarity with yourself and potential candidates,” shared Zaid. We’re proud of the great strides we’ve made in the diversity of our C-suite and are continuously pushing for more, such as adding more women in leadership roles. Zaid goes on to say that, “as long as we have people in the public and private sector challenging these systemic inequities which have involved race, economic opportunity and climate, we’ll get there. This is not an issue just for the black or brown community. We need allyship everywhere. On the private sector side, it’s empowering workers and making sure that we create not just jobs, but careers.”
One day, climate change will no longer be front and center and we’ll look back to see how the problem was solved. Let’s do it right, including communities of all colors in both the economic and employment opportunities presented by clean energy, and unite generations to come. The sun shines on everyone. Get involved in a cleaner world today.