In honor of Black History Month, SACE is publishing a blog series highlighting the efforts of African American leaders that have played key roles in clean energy in the Southeast. This is the third post in the series. To read other posts in this series, go here.
During the solar wars in the Sunshine State, Bishop Carroll Johnson joined the solar army from the sunny city of Orlando. From filming a video, to giving out our yard signs at his church, to hosting a press event with local solar enthusiasts, Bishop Johnson was always willing to jump in and help empower the Orlando community. We had a chance to catch up with Bishop Johnson to talk a little broader about clean energy, climate change and energy equity. Here’s what we talked about:
1. How does energy impact you? Your family? Your community?
As a family we are obviously dependent on our local utilities to provide power for our home and church and fuel for our vehicles at a price that is affordable and in ways that do not adversely affect our environment. Our constituents are mostly low income and middle class and as such spend an inordinate amount of their income to keep the lights on and have enough gasoline to make it through the week to work and run errands.
As a result they are very vulnerable to severe price peaks as a result of weather and market forces for fuel. For instance, in our Baltimore church a severe cold snap can cause a poorly insulated rental home to generate an electric bill that the renter will be unable to handle and subject them to losing their electricity during the harshest part of the winter.
2. In your opinion, what role does clean energy and energy efficiency play in the larger fight for a healthy planet?
The fact that emerging alternative energy solutions exist and are becoming more efficient and affordable would dictate that they should logically become the focus of government policy, research and incentives. The fact that this is such an uphill battle indicates to me that we need to develop an army of clean energy advocates from every economic part of our community. This is particularly important when we consider that many of the most toxic and hazardous facilities get dumped in low income areas where the residents do not have the political clout to fight back.
3. Do you see a lot of clean energy, like solar, in Orlando? If not, what’s holding it back?
I have not seen major growth in rooftop solar in Orlando since the end of the state sponsored incentives. On a recent trip to Baltimore I was shocked at the number of installations I observed in Black and White middle class areas. Obviously the political climate for clean energy is having a visible effect in a state that doesn’t have the solar advantages of Florida. Florida needs a much stronger grassroots effort to change the legislative and regulatory environment in the Sunshine State.
4. What is your favorite thing about the clean energy revolution?
I developed an interest in converting gas cars to electric and we actually conducted workshops at our church to train people, so I am ecstatic about the success of Tesla in developing such a powerful line of cars and stimulating the growth and acceptance of electric vehicles.
5. Do you have any tips on how to get involved in bringing more clean energy / energy efficiency to Florida?
I am a strong advocate for Community Solar Farms as a vehicle for opening up solar to renters, people that can’t afford a solar installation, or people that have credit issues. My hope is to educate churches about this option and use the pressure of our members to push the utilities into doing these Community Solar Farms in low income communities to stimulate their awareness of clean energy alternatives and their ability to participate in the revolution.
6. Have you or would you consider adding solar panels or energy efficiency measures (LEDs, insulation, etc.) to your home or church?
Presently, I am renting both our home and church facility but as soon as we can purchase them, this will be a priority. However, we do take measures to increase our energy efficiency and recycle.
7. What do you think the future of clean energy is for Florida?
I predict steady progress in the area of utility-owned installations and slow progress on roof top and Community Solar until pressure comes from residents. Third party arrangements should help spur growth over the next few years.