2020 was a year of natural devastation, with unprecedented forest fires, record-setting tropical cyclones, and an exceptional hurricane season. Global warming continues apace — and often low-income and BIPOC communities bear the brunt of our environmental destruction.
At BlueHub, we have long been focused on environmental justice, mitigating the forces of climate change for the communities we serve and ensuring they benefit from ecological advances. For two decades we have promoted the use of green technologies in affordable housing — from rooftop solar to healthier building materials to energy conservation techniques. We have also labored to change environmental policies to be more inclusive.
For instance, since 2016 BlueHub has been working on Massachusetts state legislation to increase access to solar energy for low-income communities. In a major win for BlueHub and our fellow environmental advocates, the landmark bill was signed into law in March 2021. Existing solar policies limit access for residents with low incomes; BlueHub spearheaded the law’s new solar provisions that ensure everyone in Massachusetts has equitable access to solar energy, regardless of their income or where they live in the state.
While this is the most recent example of our solar work, we have long been drivers of solar energy use. We began by innovating funding solutions that enable the addition of solar panels to affordable housing projects. Yet for many, roof-top solar isn’t a possibility: some roofs are too old, too slanted, too shady — or, in the case of most affordable housing, residents don’t own the roof. So, we developed the Onset Shared Solar Program, a solar farm that generates energy credits that can offset the electricity bills for affordable housing developments — and their residents — in Southeastern Massachusetts.
Still, in the quest for better buildings, the goal is to create properties that are healthier to live in, less expensive to operate, and able to harness renewables — and solar isn’t always the only or best answer. As we evaluate projects, we are able to advise owners both on financing and on a variety of energy improvements that can yield significant savings. These range from tighter building envelopes and better insulation to more efficient lighting, low-flow water systems, and energy-efficient mechanical systems.
BlueHub Energy partner HallKeen, owners of Woodland Apartments, a 276-unit affordable housing development in Coventry, Rhode Island, provides an example. HallKeen initially approached BlueHub for assistance accessing solar energy credits. However, at the time, Rhode Island state policy did not allow sharing solar bill credits. Instead, we provided consulting on how the development could lower its overall energy use and improve resident comfort, making them eligible for significant utility rebates. We also used our Massachusetts solar experience to shape Rhode Island solar policy; ultimately, when Rhode Island policy changed, we connected the property to an in-state solar facility, providing additional savings on its electric bill.
We are using knowledge gained in individual projects like Woodland to work on broader impact regulations. We have been actively participating in the Massachusetts regulatory process to help shape SMART, the state’s solar program. This year, a series of regulatory changes have taken effect, and we are pleased that recent proposals by the utility companies incorporate our suggestions, significantly expanding access to affordable, clean, solar energy in the communities we serve.