SOMAH: Centering Environmental Justice in Climate Friendly Buildings

electric building

The building electrification movement is gaining momentum across the nation, especially in California. According to the Sierra Club, as of June 2nd, 2021, Sacramento became the forty-sixth city in the state to commit to phasing out natural gas from new building construction. Moving away from natural gas for heating and cooking is important not only to reduce the impacts of climate change but to protect health and safety. Gas pipelines can devastate water and land. Gas appliances in our homes create air pollution that contributes to serious long-term health effects, including asthma.

 

To successfully eliminate carbon dioxide pollution, or decarbonization, building electrification must be paired with energy efficiency measures. The cleanest source of energy is energy that was never used in the first place. While it’s important to seek renewable, cleaner energy to power our homes, simply reducing energy use is the single-most effective tactic for decreasing our home’s carbon footprint. Especially for properties looking to solar for their electricity needs, energy efficiency upgrades can reduce the on-site load making solar more affordable.

 

The decarbonization process must also include a sharp focus on equity. Low-income and environmental justice communities often consume more energy per square foot than their more affluent counterparts due to not enough home insulation, old appliances, and lack of access to energy efficiency programs and upgrades. If electrification efforts are made without protections for renters, landlords and property developers can recoup the costs of these upgrades by raising rents and risking displacement. As we advocate for electrified homes, we must center the needs of low-income, vulnerable renters, so that EJ communities have the opportunity to reap the benefits of these investments.

 

Programs like the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program have a built-in energy efficiency component to ensure that tenants have the greatest opportunity for bill savings in addition to advancing decarbonization. SOMAH’s technical assistance experts walk property owners through the entire process of going solar, including providing referrals to energy efficiency and other programs like battery storage and electric vehicle charging. SOMAH requires that tenants must receive the full financial benefit of having on-site solar, so decarbonization measures cannot be used to raise rents. California’s low-income renters must not be left behind by the decarbonization movement and equity-focused programs must be part of city and statewide initiatives.

 

To find out if your apartment qualifies for energy efficiency or solar upgrades, please contact the SOMAH program coordinator at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..