Community Driven Resilience Hubs in the midst of smoke filled skies in California

(09/2020) For the first time ever, we witnessed an apocalyptic orange sky filled with so much smoke that it literally blocked out the sun on Wednesday, September 9, 2020.  This day will forever be remembered by residents of the greater Bay Area and the rest of the world. When we decided to host a webinar about community driven resilience hubs with NorCal Resilience Network on this same date, we anticipated things that could possibly go wrong—such as having a blackout in the middle of the webinar; so we created a back up plan to continue the webinar via phone. However, getting ready for a day that would look like living on Mars never occurred to us. Because energy resilience has different meanings for communities on the ground, we featured a diverse group of grassroots organizers to understand the full range of challenges faced by different communities. We realized that we must plan for a multitude of crises.

After Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice’s Mari Rose Taruc’s opening remarks and land acknowledgement, we heard from six different community organizers about their work around community driven energy resilience. In the first part of the webinar, Susan Silber from NorCal Resilience Network started by explaining what the term resilience hubs mean. Resilience hubs are “community-serving facilities augmented to support residents and coordinate resource distribution and services before, during, or after a natural hazard event”. Later, we heard from Patrice Strahan about Disability Justice Culture Club’s East Bay Mutual Aid Network. The last panelist before an event break, Keta Price, who is a founding member of People Power Solar Cooperative, talked about the commons model in which energy is a tool for building community power. In the second part, we heard from Laura Gracia about Communities for a Better Environment’s efforts to bring localized solutions to the communities in East Oakland and Southern CA. Next, Marg Hall from Electricity=Life talked about specific needs of people with disabilities and called for better designed solar + storage programs. Finally, Jessica Tovar from Local Clean Energy Alliance emphasized the importance of decentralized energy systems in transforming our communities from sacrifice zones to solutions for survival. If you would like to learn more about their inspiring work, please read more below and also check out this recording of the webinar.
As the first of the panelists, Susan Silber from Norcal Resilience Network introduced the concept of resilience hubs. She shared local examples of resilience hubs such as Dream Youth Clinic, a health center with a restorative justice program and community garden. Another example was Canticle Farm, a permaculture oasis that also creates a safe space for formerly incarcerated people. She also talked about NorCal Resilience Network’s theory of change which consists of uplifting and supporting grassroots organizations; supporting and catalyzing community sites and neighborhoods as regenerative spaces; and providing ample resources to the movement.
The second panelist was Patrice Strahan from Disability Justice Culture Club (DJCC). Patrice talked about East Bay Mutual Aid Network which was started by DJCC to support elders and disabled folks. The Network provided a platform for disabled organizers to help connect volunteers with the elders and disabled folks. So far, over 400 people signed up to volunteer or donate supplies or funds and the Network was able to help 190 people by providing support and supplies such as masks, air purifiers and PPEs. Patrice also mentioned the importance of collaborating with other organizations such as Food Shift and C.R.C. (Community Ready Corps). Finally, Patrice mentioned how resilience hubs with solar + storage are essential for the survival of people who rely on power for their medical equipment and recommended thinking holistically about helping the community. 
The last presenter of the first section was Keta Price, who is one of the founding members of People Power Solar Cooperative. She shared updates about how they bring resilience hubs to life. She talked about the commons model which is different from the market and charity states of mind. In the commons model, energy is a tool for building community power. She shared examples of how they build economic and political power and explore black ownership of energy through projects such as the solar trailer at the Black Cultural Zone. She also talked about the cooperative’s and the community’s roles in the commons model. Basically, the cooperative provides technical, legal and administrative support while the community groups engage in choosing sites, building interest and recruiting project members. See the details below to get involved in this community centered solution. 
The first panelist on the second half of the panel was Laura Gracia from Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). She reminded us how real resilient transformative work comes from the community members and how leadership development and building networks could also be seen as another form of infrastructure. She mentioned the importance of localized solutions and decentralized economic structure in just recovery and just transition. Communities for a Better Environment works with the members in East Oakland on getting solar on multifamily affordable housing through California’s SOMAH program. She told us that although it’s not the perfect solution, CBE has been advocating for it because it has funding and there is interest in the community. She also briefly mentioned their research efforts around community solar and storage and finding out which community centers would be best equipped to serve as resilience hubs. 
Marg Hall from Electricity=Life spoke next about people with disabilities’ right to live in their homes in an independent manner. Electricity is essential to maintain communications and keep medical devices working because many of them don’t have long-term battery backup. She told us that resource centers that PG&E set up are not helpful for people with disabilities because of the mobility issues. She said they looked into the SGIP program—solar + storage incentive program administered by PG&E, but mentioned how frustrating dealing with PG&E and CPUC can be. Lastly, she emphasized the need for better designed solar + storage programs that would address the needs of people with disabilities and low-income communities living in fire zones. 
The final panelist of the webinar was Jessica Tovar from Local Clean Energy Alliance (LCEA). She talked about LCEA’s organizing efforts around community choice programs and how LCEA advocated for East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), the community choice program in Alameda County, to adopt the Local Development Business Plan (LDBP), which she calls our Local Green New Deal. LDBP prioritizes local clean energy resources that would help create good family sustaining jobs and provide local community ownership and control as well as many other benefits. She emphasized the importance of transforming our communities from sacrifice zones to solutions for survival. She also talked about the need to explicitly spell out what equity looks like and shared her definition of vulnerable communities; black, indigenous, people of color, low-income, the elderly, disabled, the detained, youth, immigrants, veterans, the unhoused, women and LGBTQIA+ communities. Alternative financial solutions such as on-bill repayment was one of the things that she said we would need to bring clean energy ownership to people who are most in need and said they would like to see EBCE emphasize those needs. 
After the panelists, JP Ross from EBCE talked about their Resilient Home program. See below for more info about that program. 
Resilient Home Program
East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), our local community choice energy provider, launched the Resilient Home program to serve its customers in Alameda County. EBCE has partnered with Sunrun to provide pre-negotiated pricing for rooftop solar, with or without battery storage. Resilient Home offers an additional $1250 incentive if homeowners enroll their battery with EBCE, sharing power during peak times when there isn’t an outage. Here are two ways to participate: 
The Community Centered Option:
We encourage community shared and cooperative models like those of People Power Solar Cooperative to create a “community centered” resilient hub that is designed, built and owned by the community.  People Power Solar Cooperative can help engage with property owners in your community to begin this conversation. If you are a property owner or can recruit some “community minded” property owners, fill out this form TODAY! 
  • This program will be a community partnership with East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) and you only need to sign up HERE!
For those who want more than just working with property owners to build community resilience, People Power Solar Cooperative is also inviting you to co-designing a Community Backup Power Supply. Imagine if your power is shut off, but because you are in a mutual aid cooperative, you can contact your member-owners to send power to your house with a cooperatively shared battery pack. Join their next gathering to build on this process. 
Wednesday, September 23, 5-6pm
The Corporate Model:
If you would rather go with a corporate model and buy the system for yourself or lease it from Sunrun, you can sign up on the EBCE website directly.
EBCE’s upcoming webinars for the Resilient Home Program are on September 24 (6-7 pm); September 29 (12-1pm), or September 30 (6-7pm).
How are these two options different? Learn more here: