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Baltimore Is Building Resilient Community Centers and Empowering Residents

The Institute for Sustainable Communities recently released Resilient Solar: Powering and Empowering Communities, a report that shares the stories of trailblazing resilient solar projects in New York City, Baltimore, Duluth, and San Francisco, and connects readers to tools, resources, and lessons learned that they can put to use in their own communities.

This is the second of a four-part series telling how communities are using solar to become more resilient.

ISC is hosting a free webinar on April 5, about how Baltimore, New York, and San Francisco are using resilient solar to help underserved communities and be less vulnerable to disasters. Register today 

In its 32-year history, the Baltimore nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation has continually expanded its portfolio of programs to benefit struggling local communities with an increasingly holistic array of services. It provides experiential learning, workforce development, and other services to underserved youth and adults in the East Baltimore area—an area which struggles with high levels of poverty, crime, unemployment, and chronic diseases.

Living Classrooms serves residents through many mechanisms. The most visible are community centers, which deliver education, training, and health services. In 2016, Living Classrooms joined ISC’s Partnership for Resilient Communities and began work to implement resilient solar at its East Baltimore community centers and training local residents to become certified solar installers.

A particular focus is the Baltimore Target Investment Zone (TIZ), a 122-acre area in east Baltimore that struggles with high levels of poverty, crime, unemployment, low educational achievement, and chronic health issues. The neighborhood has struggled with power outages due to aging infrastructure and more intense storms. The low-income residents of the TIZ are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of these power outages. Fundamental needs like refrigerating insulin, powering oxygen tanks, or replenishing spoiled food can become insurmountable challenges.

To provide more secure energy supplies in the community, the POWER House Community Center will feature a 50 kWh battery charged by a 10 kW solar array with an expected annual output of 1,362 kWh. When paired with a 15-25 kW gasoline generator, this system will be able to support critical loads for three days, including emergency lighting, fire alarms, a small refrigerator, and localized heating and cooling systems. Living Classrooms has also partnered with the City of Baltimore’s sustainability and emergency management offices to provide basic resources, such as water, during emergencies.

Living Classrooms Foundation, Power52 Foundation, and Institute for Sustainable Communities staff gather in Baltimore to kick-off the Partnership for Resilient Communities work on resilient solar.

HOW THEY ARE DOING IT

To complete this project, Living Classrooms is working in close partnership with the Power52 Foundation, an organization that brings significant technical experience in solar project development and finance. In 2016, the two organizations began to plan for the installation of resilient solar at three of its community centers: the POWER House Community Center, the UnderArmour (UA) House at Fayette, and the Patterson Park House. In addition to assessing project feasibility, they also conducted a survey of local residents to understand the kinds of services they needed from community centers during disasters.

As they were getting started, Living Classrooms learned of an effort being led by the City of Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability to create a network of resiliency hubs located in trusted community facilities to serve residents during emergencies. Living Classrooms partnered with the city to integrate their community centers into the resiliency hub network. The program provides a checklist for the kinds of supplies and services the hubs should have available, integrates the hubs into the city emergency operations, and offers training and support.  Living Classrooms has also developed a survey for residents to gauge their level of preparedness for emergencies and to help inform the design of resiliency hubs.

Living Classrooms recognized that resilient solar not only offers a way to power facilities, it is also a growing economic opportunity and a potential source of jobs for their community. Together, Living Classrooms and Power52 have developed a solar energy professional training course with a focus on solar panel installation for area residents facing barriers to employment. Course participants are receiving on-the-job training at installation sites including the Living Classrooms centers.

These energy professional trainees, along with Living Classrooms staff, and other community residents, are also receiving Community Emergency Response Team training provided by the city to help develop informed first responders. This workforce development program ensures that solar installed on the community centers is completed by, and for, the community it serves. It also fosters economic resilience by creating employment opportunities in the rapidly growing field of solar energy and battery storage.

Living Classroom’ strategic partnership with the City of Baltimore and the Power52 Foundation marshals the unique strengths of these three public and private entities. It enables Living Classrooms to use the emerging technology of resilient solar to address an acute resilience challenge in some of Baltimore’s most vulnerable communities.

NEXT STEPS

The resilient solar installation is expected to be complete at the POWER House in early 2018 and at the UA House later in the year. Living Classrooms hopes to execute a memorandum of understanding with the City of Baltimore to become official resiliency hubs soon after the solar installations are completed. The third class of solar installers began in February 2018.

This excerpt is from Resilient Solar: Powering and Empowering Communities, a report produced by the Institute for Sustainable Communities with support from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, The Kresge Foundation, and The JPB Foundation.

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