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Green Upgrade: How California Is Pioneering ‘Energy Justice’

By Patricia Leigh Brown ~ Yale Environment 360 ~

California has the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program, which raises billions of dollars for the state. An innovative project is directing some of that revenue to bringing renewable power and energy efficiency to some of the state’s most disadvantaged communities.

Diana Guzman, a 30-year-old widow, works in a peach packing plant in California’s Central Valley. She lives with her two children at Casas de la Viña, a nonprofit housing development for farmworkers in an agricultural region buffeted by poverty and some of the nation’s most polluted air.

Not long ago, the family lived in a drafty, dilapidated ranch building rife with mold and insects. Now, they reside in one of the country’s first farmworker housing projects to achieve zero net energy. The improvements to the complex have included energy-efficient, heat-pump water heaters, low-E windows, and futuristic-looking solar carports that produce power for the development. The extensive retrofits are the result of a novel and far-reaching set of state laws that require 35 percent of California’s cap-and-trade auction proceeds to be spent on clean energy projects in disadvantaged communities and low-income neighborhoods.

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