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Renewable energy use is predicted to overtake coal by early 2025. However, not all renewable companies are created equally. Learn how Volt Energy Utility is putting climate justice at the forefront of their business.
As the world transitions to a green future—one that moves away from fossil fuels and non-renewable energy usage—environmental justice advocates are seeing a notable lack of intersectional approaches to this space. From high upfront costs for individuals, to a lack of physical access to renewables, the transition to clean energy remains inaccessible to many.
Enter recent Climate Pledge signatory, Volt Energy Utility: a national Black-owned solar energy development firm that develops, finances, and operates utility-scale solar projects. We recently spoke with Volt Founder, Gilbert Campbell, to learn more about his backstory, how Volt came to be, and how the company is prioritizing climate justice initiatives.
Intersectional Environmentalist: We’d love to learn a bit more about your background. What sparked your interest in climate justice and, more specifically, renewable energies?
Campbell: My interest in climate justice is grounded in my deep belief that everyone should be treated equally and fairly. My parents raised me to be cognizant of social justice issues. As I became older, I recognized that climate justice is an essential part of social justice, and I was compelled to take action. I’ve always wanted to be a social entrepreneur, and to run a business that can both make a profit and improve lives in communities across this country and abroad. I was led to renewable energy because it’s the future, and I’m confident that it will transform all aspects of our society and improve the lives of those most impacted by climate change and environmental injustice.
Intersectional Environmentalist: What is Volt Energy Utility and how did you get started?
Campbell: I founded Volt Energy Utility in 2021, based on over a decade of experience running Volt Energy, a nationally distributed generation solar development firm, and identifying where renewable energy could have a greater impact in underserved communities. As a seasoned diverse clean tech entrepreneur, I wanted to transform the way that corporations procure utility and to scale solar energy, so that they can achieve their aggressive decarbonization goals and positively impact the front-line minority and rural communities that they serve. Last year our team signed a 250 MW PPA with Microsoft, which represents the first utility-scale solar project with a Black-owned firm and a major Fortune 500 corporation. This project was done through an innovative product that our team pioneered, the Environmental Justice Power Purchase Agreement (EJ PPA). The EJ PPA matches how corporations purchase solar energy but in a way that provides transformative benefits to both minority and rural communities across the country. We work with corporate partners to develop projects in rural areas (to spur local economic growth), and take a percentage of our EJ PPA revenue and put it directly into the Sharing The Power Foundation, which we founded to solve the complex environmental justice challenges that minority and rural communities face across the country. Combatting climate change and environmental injustice will require bold action, innovation, and collaboration. That is what Volt Energy Utility and the Sharing The Power Foundation stand for.
AISSA DEARING-BENTON, A 2022 VOLT ENERGY UTILITY ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AMBASSADOR FELLOW.
Intersectional Environmentalist: What climate justice initiatives is Volt taking? And why is it important to prioritize environmental justice from a business perspective?
Campbell: Volt Energy Utility has made climate justice investments and initiatives an integral part of what the company does. Through our Sharing The Power Foundation, Volt Energy Utility has prioritized making grant investments in grassroots organizations that are leading the way in promoting climate equity and addressing environmental justice, such as GOODR, Appalachian Voices Center for Coalfield Justice, and HBCU Green Fund.
Through the Sharing The Power Foundation, we are also investing in clean energy, sustainability, and environmental justice leaders. After launching the Volt Energy Utility Environmental Justice Ambassador Fellowship program in 2022, we have been able to support six accomplished HBCU students representing Virginia State University, Howard University, and Clark Atlanta University. The fellowship program features a paid internship, professional development workshops, networking opportunities with clean energy, sustainability, and environmental leaders, and more. Fellows also received a $10,000 academic scholarship, and have begun to raise awareness and host events on campus around environmental justice issues affecting their communities.
Intersectional Environmentalist: What changes do you hope to see in the renewable energy space in order to make it more accessible and inclusive? What actions can businesses take to practice that?
Campbell: With the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, our country has the opportunity to make the necessary investments to decarbonize our power sector, while prioritizing frontline communities that have been impacted by environmental injustice.
Here are four actions that businesses both large and small can take to make renewable energy more accessible and inclusive:
- Engage with your local community to learn about renewable energy and the climate challenges they are facing.
- Configure your corporate and/or advisory boards to include diverse leaders with clean energy, sustainability, or environmental justice experience.
- Invest in grassroots organizations addressing the lack of inclusion in the renewable energy sector, and climate/environmental justice.
- Expand your supply chain to include diverse firms that offer renewable energy and other clean energy solutions.
Intersectional Environmentalist: You’ve done some incredible things in your career, including national recognition for your efforts and testifying before Congress about making the renewable energy sector more inclusive. What was that experience like?
Campbell: It was an honor to testify before Congress on two occasions about the importance of making the renewable energy sector more inclusive and ensuring that front-line communities benefit from federal policy. I had the rewarding opportunity to highlight to both sides of the aisle that investment in clean energy is an American opportunity and not a partisan issue. Renewable energy will continue to transform our society and economy, while providing countless well-paying jobs. It’s our collective responsibility to prioritize those investments in communities that have suffered the most from environmental injustice and poor policies from the past.
Intersectional Environmentalist: Where do you see Volt five years down the line? Given you had unlimited resources, what major milestones and projects would you like to implement?
Campbell: I would like to see Volt Energy Utility continue to be a leader in the decarbonization of our power sector through providing safe and reliable renewable energy power that positively impacts communities. I sincerely hope more diversely owned firms like Volt Energy Utility are given an opportunity to demonstrate their excellence and ingenuity to solve the climate crisis. I also hope that the Sharing The Power Foundation will be a leading voice advocating for investments in underserved communities. With unlimited resources, I would like to implement the vision and mission of Volt Energy Utility and the Sharing The Power Foundation on a global scale.
Intersectional Environmentalist: At Intersectional Environmentalist we talk a lot about the importance of intergenerational wisdom and providing the next generation with the resources, motivation, and inspiration needed to continue the fight for climate justice. What legacy are you hoping to leave through your work?
Campbell: I spend a lot of time thinking about how to best prepare the next generation to take the fight for climate justice to the next level. I hope to be an example of how you can have a vision to positively impact communities and successfully implement it through passion and hard-work, and that you can bring other key stakeholders along and disrupt an industry in a positive way.
Volt Energy Utility joined The Climate Pledge on September 9, 2022. Learn more about Volt Energy Utility here. Learn more about the Sharing The Power Foundation here.
Sabs Katz (she/her) is a Co-Founder and the Partnerships Lead at Intersectional Environmentalist (IE), a 501c3 climate justice collective radically imagining a more equitable and diverse future of environmentalism. She is also the content creator behind Sustainable Sabs, a platform dedicated to conscious living and practicing intersectional environmentalism. (author photo cred: Angelo dela Cruz)