Juan Parra grew up in Union City, New Jersey, a working-class, predominately Latino community.
When he was young, he associated environmentalism with faraway problems, like polar bears stranded on ice.
“And I never really thought about how it applied to communities that were similar to where I grew up,” he says.
But in college, Parra started learning how environmental issues affect low-income communities of color. For example, they often bear the brunt of the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels.
Today, he works for a New York City-based nonprofit called Solar One, helping to implement community solar projects in low-income areas. By subscribing, people can get their electricity from a shared solar project without an up-front investment.
“We want to encourage the development and the expansion of community solar because it’s a way for so many people to gain access to solar energy,” he says, “particularly renters, particularly low- and moderate-income households.”
He says expanding access to solar is important not only for improving air quality, health, and the climate, but because it can save people money.
He wants to make sure that as renewable energy grows, its benefits reach the communities – like his hometown – that may need them the most.