Equity in Clean Energy and Climate Planning

Equity in Clean Energy and Climate Planning

Written by Francelis Morillo Suarez, Clean Energy & Climate Planner I

September 14, 2023 - While climate change impacts everyone, it doesn’t impact everyone in the same way. From the urban heat island effect and its connections to historic redlining, to siting affordable housing in flood zones, people of color and low-income individuals and families are most often the ones who bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change. At the same time, people of color and low-income communities also face greater barriers to accessing and benefitting from clean energy, energy efficiency, and other programs to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reduce energy costs. For example, competitive suppliers target low-income communities and often charge more for electricity, and installing solar onsite typically requires upfront investment, credit checks, and home ownership. 

As we work to green our grid and help build communities that are more climate resilient, we all must be conscious of the inequitable distribution of both the impacts and benefits of our clean energy transition. It’s important to talk about equity in clean energy and climate planning, and even more critical that we act and identify concrete steps to prioritize racial and economic equity in our work. In MetroCommon 2050, Greater Boston's regional land use and policy plan, equity is embedded as a core value. The goal of becoming a “Net Zero Carbon Region” is just one example. This goal calls for ensuring that “the benefits and impacts of new energy infrastructure are distributed equitably across the region, with all groups benefiting and no location or population bearing a disproportionate burden.” In order to avoid making similar historical mistakes, we must make sure equity is at the core of these new systems.

Examples of Equity in Climate Projects in Massachusetts

Local municipalities are leading the way on centering equity into their clean energy and climate planning and implementation: 

City of Chelsea and Boston’s Chinatown Microgrid Project

The City of Chelsea and Boston's Chinatown, both environmental justice communities, are currently developing community microgrids. Microgrids are created so that communities can have access to a reliable source of electricity even during a power outage. As defined by the U.S. Department of Energy, a microgrid is “a local energy grid with control capability, which means it can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously. It can break off and operate on its own using local energy generation in times of crisis like storms or power outages, or for other reasons. A microgrid can be powered by distributed generators, batteries, and/or renewable resources like solar panels.” A cloud-based microgrid system, which is the kind Chelsea and Chinatown are working to implement, links buildings through software in the cloud, so even if they aren’t attached by wires, they can operate as one system. 

This project’s work approach is equity-focused, as community leaders are at the forefront of the effort and are making sure the projects are tailored to their specific location and resident needs. The fact that community leaders are project leaders ensures that relationships are well-fostered, and everyone’s needs are met as best as possible. 

The Community First Partnership through Mass Save  

The Mass Save Community First Partnership grant helps support environmental justice communities with implementing energy efficiency measures. The grant funds a part-time Energy Advocate for the community, providing comprehensive training relating to clean energy (residential weatherization, heating and cooling updates, etc.), and more. 

For a look at a community example, see Beverly and Salem’s Mass Save program page. They are working with National Grid to support small businesses and residents with energy efficiency resources that will save them money. As noted previously, low-income communities are often over-charged for electricity, and energy bills can be a financial burden, so having access to this type of program that supports these communities specifically is crucial. 

Keep Cool Somerville Community Projects  

The Keep Cool Somerville Community Projects helped build heat health equity in the community. The grant program was funded by MAPC’s Accelerating Climate Resilience Grant Program, and its objectives were to help build capacity for collaboration between residents, community-based organizations, and municipal staff on the topic of heat resilience planning. Through this work, they hoped to learn about the community’s concerns, priorities, and preferred solutions for long-term planning, while reducing the heat health risk and discomfort to Somerville residents, especially those who were most vulnerable, during the summer of 2021. The Keep Cool project funded six organizations for varying types of projects; from ones that provided resources to residents (such as air conditioners and bilingual communications materials), to others that implemented cooling art installations around the city. 

Additional project examples are listed below: 

MAPC Equity in Clean Energy Webinar Series 

MAPC's Clean Energy Department works to support, provide resources for, and foster discussions related to equity in clean energy and climate work. In December of 2022, we launched the Equity in Clean Energy Webinar Series to further advance this work. The webinar series engages municipal staff, community groups, and other local leaders in shared learning and discussion about ways that clean energy and climate planning and programs can advance equity in their respective communities. We aim to highlight projects and folks who have been doing this work and share resources with as many people as possible. Check out our webpage for more information and to access the recordings and slides for previously held events on: 

Our final webinar will be held on Wednesday, September 20, 2023, from 1:00 - 2:30 p.m. This event will focus on creating more equitable access to clean energy technologies, specifically models for EV equity, with a presentation from the MAPC Transportation Department on work they’ve been doing in this area, and highlights of a local equity-focused EV Carsharing model, as well as EV charging infrastructure at multi-unit dwellings. We will be joined by: 

  • Merav Dale, Operations Lead, Good2Go 
  • Kevin Hachey, Program Manager, Forth 
  • Alison Felix, AICP, Principal Planner and Emerging Technologies Specialist, MAPC 

Register here

We hope to continue this conversation after the conclusion of the webinar series! If you have any thoughts or questions, contact Francelis Morillo Suarez at

Additional Resources 

Below are several MAPC resources on equity and specifically equity in clean energy and climate planning that you can start to use and read through: