Funding to encourage clean energy jobs throughout Buffalo

Justin Sondel
From left to center: Open Buffalo Executive Director Franchelle Hart, Buffalo Common Council member Ulysses Wingo, Buffalo Common Council member David Rivera, PUSH Buffalo Executive Director Aaron Bartley.

Funding to encourage clean energy jobs throughout Buffalo

Funding to encourage clean energy jobs throughout Buffalo
March 17, 2016

The push is on to create high-quality, clean energy jobs in Buffalo.

Standing at the city’s “five corners” intersection on the West Side, a new coalition of of advocacy and arts groups, calling themselves the Crossroads Collective, announced that they had been funded by the Chorus Foundation to the tune of $4 million over the next eight years. The groups, which push policy changes related to clean energy, plan to expand their reach to the entire city to provide job training, employment and access to green technology for low- and moderate-income residents.

Aaron Bartley is the executive director of PUSH Buffalo, one of two anchor organizations in the coalition. Standing in the brilliant morning sun, he told onlookers that the groups will work to take what his organization has done in the surrounding 25-block neighborhood – weatherizing homes, installing rain gardens, updating buildings with green energy technology like geothermal heating and cooling systems, and providing jobs and training – to every section of the city.

“The fact is, if you look around this community, we’ve proven that there are real solutions,” Bartley said. “We can take our old housing stock, we can create a job in every one of these houses that needs lower utility bills, that needs solar on the roof, and we have a model that we can take city-wide, state-wide, and create the jobs that our communities need.”

As part of its effort, the Crossroads Collective is working to promote NY Renews, a statewide coalition of advocacy groups, environmental groups and organized labor working to craft a package of legislation that would codify and enforce goals already outlined in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s clean energy plan.

Drafts of the legislation will soon be presented to state lawmakers, and statewide representatives from the Working Families Party and NY Renews on hand for the event said efforts to reach out to legislators have already begun.

The NY Renews campaign has the backing of high-profile statewide office holders – like state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli – but legislators are waiting for the legislation to be distributed before jumping on board.

Both NY Renews and the Crossroads Collection aim to ramp up their pressure on legislators as soon as the state budget is finalized by the end of the month.

Joining the group of eight partners at the rally were members of supporting organizations, Buffalo Common Council members and city residents.

The Partnership for the Public Good, a policy advocacy and research outfit and a Crossroads Collection partner, released a report in support of the group’s efforts, outlining the the economic and environmental impacts that the policy changes and job training efforts could have on the region. Western New York, the report says, can either continue a legacy of racial and economic injustice, or it can leverage the green technology jobs and construction opportunities expected to come to the region to provide opportunities for the residents most in need of jobs.

Jobs in the clean energy field are more accessible for people of lower education levels than fossil fuel industry jobs, according to the report.

Franchelle Hart, the executive director of Open Buffalo, an advocacy group that will provide mentorship and leadership training programs to aid the efforts and will act as an anchor organization alongside PUSH Buffalo, said that in a city with the oldest housing stock in the country, energy efficiency and the jobs that clean energy creates have the potential to be transformative, especially for families in need.

“In a city with so much, it seems like so little is actually reaching the masses,” Hart said.

And with the toxic legacy left by the very industries that once made Western New York a bastion of the middle class, the region will now have an opportunity to foster the middle-class again without polluting the environment, she said.

“We want everyone to have access to clean energy,” Hart said. “We want to keep our planet clean and we want good jobs that we can raise our families on.”

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Justin Sondel
is a freelance reporter in Buffalo.