Access to economic opportunities that can build wealth for a family year in and year out, generation after generation, and a vibrant civic life, is out of reach for many rural and industrial communities. These communities have persistently dealt with climate change, social injustice, and income inequality. And to add insult to injury, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it remarkably clear the hardships these communities have endured. More than ever, an investment in sustainable, climate-resilient infrastructure and clean energy sources that also create good-paying middle class jobs becomes more urgent. And on a basic level, the U.S. has an opportunity to ensure that those omitted from broadband access now have digital access.
To promote sustainable communities across the U.S., the federal government has the opportunity to enable access to clean energy solutions for the most underserved communities, create new investment opportunities while supporting workers in transitioning to clean energy jobs, and help direct capital toward industries fighting climate change.
PCV’s expansive discussion paper – Meeting The Moment — examines how impact investing policy can be used to help private capital address inequality and support COVID-19 recovery efforts in the U.S.
While big, well-financed businesses have streamlined to remote work and an e-commerce approach, enterprises lacking resources to incur the additional expense of funding their staff with “work from home” capabilities, such as access to internet and technology, had to make staffing arrangements (layouts or furloughs). By utilizing the blended finance model and incorporating these three initiatives at the federal level, there is an opportunity for economic security, civic engagement, and a reliable and healthy environment.
Expand the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund
This will drive capital to expand digital access across American while simultaneously providing millions of low-income and/or rural Americans access to broadband. Broadband access will allow these communities to tap into critical virtual resources, such as healthcare, entrepreneurship, jobs, and education.
With 42 million Americans lacking access to a broadband connection, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in February 2020 to provide broadband networks in underserved rural areas. The FCC can expand the fund’s reach to incentivize impact investors to fund innovative models of broadband connections that can de-risk impact investments. While using a blended finance model, a partial risk guarantee provided by the federal government can support innovations that drive additional, catalytic impact capital toward new initiatives, creating savings from smart grid deployment.
Create a Federal Environmental Transition Office
This approach will provide rural Americans employed by the coal industry greater access to high-quality jobs, training for transition to quality jobs in other industries, and drive the community to “Just Transition” clean energy.
Implementing a national program that supports coal workers in accessing education and training opportunities for high-quality jobs and providing grants to entities in coal transition communities can ensure coal-transition workers will have access to higher-quality and well-compensated jobs. With the federal government implementing this program in the Department of Labor office in Colorado, this office could house renewable energy infrastructure funds that impact investors who can act as co-investors alongside the government, providing funding for state-level just offices in coal-producing states.
Establish a Federal Solar for All Initiative
This idea can increase solar power access for millions of low-income communities, regardless of homeownership status, and increase job creation in the clean energy sector.
Under the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, the Solar of All Initiative allows 25 percent of the funds to be used for projects located in ‘environmental justice communities,’ or areas that suffer disproportionately from pollution. By establishing a Federal Solar for All initiative, a national strategy can provide funding and resources to existing Solar for All programs and support states and localities in developing their programs. These incentives can increase an opportunity for impact investors to finance solar energy in rural communities and communities of color that have experienced firsthand the effects of pollution and seen decades of disinvestment.