Pittsburgh, Pa native Jeffrey Richardson worked in union organizing, fumigation, fundraising, and for several nonprofit organizations.
He would find his calling while working with a solar startup.
“That started my entrepreneurial phase,” Richardson said. “I have an interest in solar energy and community economic development.”
Richardson formed and incorporated Imani Energy, Inc. in 2009. Taking its name from the Swahili word for faith, job creation is part of the company mission.
“I was looking for opportunities that would be beneficial to the Black community,” said Richardson. “I’m concerned about what happens in the Black community in part because the dot com boom passed us up before. Solar is a significant opportunity.”
Additional jobs in solar training, manufacturing, installation and sales could be available today, but world leaders have been accused of turning a blind eye to global climate problems. A number of these leaders were, in fact, recently scolded by teen activist Greta Thunberg at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away,” Thunberg said. “You’re failing us.”
Summit leaders had proposed cutting carbon emissions in half over the next 10 years. But that may not be enough.
“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth,” Thunberg said. “How dare you.”
In her speech, Thunberg let global leaders know that the world is waking up and change is coming, whether they like it or not. Richardson agrees.
“Now we’re in a new phase, which is a massive transition into the development and the use of energy,” he said. “We’re moving from fossil fuels. The world is tying to make a transition.
“Europe is much further along than the U.S., but we’re all moving the away from fossil fuels to the use of renewable energy,” Richardson said.
“Currently we have an administration that is opposed to the renewable industry,” Richardson said, echoing Thunberg’s comments. “The administration is feeding into the climate disaster we’re heading toward.”
There are two major coal plants outside the Los Angeles area which help generate electricity here. In 2009, then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the city would stop its use of coal by the year 2020.
“Solar, wind, geothermal and other sources are growing,” Richardson said. “We must be involved in this transition.”
In addition to creating jobs for the community, Richardson also sees the transition away from fossil fuels as improving the health of the general population.
Combustion engines dirty the air and cause problems for everyone, especially those living in low income communities located near freeways, airports and oil refineries, where the risk of contracting cancer, asthma and/or emphysema is heightened.
As we begin to utilize the sun’s energy through solar, we lower our dependence on oil and power plants which use coal and oil to generate electricity.
“California is a leader in this renewable and solar field,” Richardson said. “Utilities pay rooftop owners for use of their roofs.”
Solar power provides an opportunity for individual homeowners to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, to reduce their dependence on utility companies and save money.
“Typically, people don’t tend to think about their utility bills, Richardson said. “Say your paying $140 a month for electricity. Over a 10-year period your going to be spending $18,000 and over a 20 year period, you’ll be spending $36,000. It adds up, and that’s the key, it adds up.“
Solar systems are not cheap, but with decreased usage of electricity, homes virtually become their own power plants. Homeowners could break even within eight years, never having to pay an electricity bill again.
“The initial sticker shock people have is understandable,” Richardson said. “But you’re hedging against the fluctuations in the cost of electricity.”
Imani Energy encompasses more than solar. The company also conducts home energy audits, estimating the energy efficiency of a home’s windows, roof, water heater and energy efficient appliances.
Imani encourages homeowners to utilize energy efficient light bulbs and low flow shower heads.
“All these things will help make your house more comfortable, use less energy and reduce your costs,” Richardson said.
While the country may not have a solid plan, Imani urges all citizens to review their energy consumption.
“You don’t have to pay for some behavioral changes,” Richardson said. “Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Turn off the water when brushing your teeth.”
In June, Imani Energy acquired a mobile solar training unit and the company intends to travel to schools across the country to teach elementary and high school students the benefits of solar energy.
“It will include curriculum, as well as allow them to do experiments with solar—converting solar energy directly to AC current,” Richardson said.
“It can really help to boost education and get people to understand how solar works,” he added. The mobile unit is currently stored at West L.A. College. Richardson is now teaching classes at the University of Delaware, where he lectures on topics of race and the environment in the Department of Africana Studies.
“In our community, in part, we don’t get enough info about what solar can do and we’re the community that could probably least afford to give our money to the utility companies.”
Richardson suggested that local churches could go solar and become models for church members. Additionally, he encourages friends, families and neighborhoods to make group purchases of solar equipment.
“There are things that can be done in our community to make pricing less and more accessible to our people,” he said. “We need to reduce our carbon output into the environment and help to create clean energy jobs.”
Again, Richardson stressed the time is now.
“This is a global transformation,” Richardson said. “We have to engage in this.”
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