April 25, 2023

This is one of a three-part series highlighting environmental justice work cities across the nation are tackling in collaboration with FUSE. Every two weeks, we’ll release a new installment in the series. Check back to view the full series >>

In 2021, Hurricane Ida knocked out all eight of New Orleans’ transmission lines, leaving many residents without power for up to 10 days, with low-income and Black communities hit the hardest. As a region with a history of rebuilding its communities in the wake of hurricanes, the City of New Orleans recognizes the urgency of building resilient infrastructure to keep its most vulnerable residents safe.

The City and FUSE partnered in 2022 to bring Ruda Pollard on board as an Executive Fellow, where he supported the implementation of a pilot of microgrids and community resilience nodes. New Orleans’ power currently comes from sources outside the city.  By building its infrastructure within city limits, the City hopes to reduce the number of power outages in instances like Hurricane Ida while increasing green jobs in the city. Embedded in the City’s Office of Economic Development, Ruda is supporting the City’s plan with “a more focused lens on how the energy industry can support itself and how the individuals within New Orleans will benefit economically from the transition to more renewable energy.”

Having worked in the solar space in Louisiana, serving mainly low- to middle-class BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities, Ruda came into the City already having industry relationships and a working knowledge of generating local renewable energy. “The City asked me to take time to understand something that it may not have the full capacity to — it recognizes something in me that I can contribute to the City and its residents,” he says. The transition is complex, and Ruda is working on several solutions. 

The first recommendation is for New Orleans to exercise its authority as the public utility regulator. He believes utility-owned solar and storage solutions are viable options for low-income households to combine community solar and on-bill financing. While Ruda recognizes this model isn’t perfect, utility ownership could provide the quickest benefit to New Orleanians. 

One of the City’s next challenges is to acquire funding to build out the microgrids, which Ruda is helping to identify. “We are not one of the richest cities across the U.S. You’ve got a population of people with a certain level of mistrust of government and authority. You’ve got a certain population of people that struggle with literacy rates; you’ve got a population of people that are economically burdened with housing costs with utility burdens. Our housing stock is low, and our incomes per capita are not on par with living wage standards,” he explains, “So when you combine all of those things, of course, financing is another important piece. Because if the solution is just over the horizon of people’s ability to pay for it, that’s not actually a solution.” In hopes of making renewable energy more accessible to everyone, Ruda is working on expanding Solar for All NOLA, an initiative he helped launch in partnership with the Mayor’s Office in his previous role. The program allows low-income families and small business owners the opportunity to install solar panels in their homes and businesses while reaping the economic benefits of solar energy. 

I hope my contribution to the City’s efforts focuses on equitable community-based solutions. I hope my impact on the City will further reveal the communities that will benefit from access to financing for renewable solutions, that the economy will benefit from the sustainable energy transition, and that those careers in green industries will make New Orleans resilient.

Ruda Pollard

For a successful transition into renewable energy, Ruda believes that having community buy-in is integral for the change to be truly sustainable and resilient. “There’s one thing that cities or municipalities are responsible for: their constituencies. And if your constituency is not bought into your solution, that’s not a solution. Now, that’s a mandate,” he says. Ruda proposes creating a Solarize New Orleans program that will incentivize the adoption, education, and dissemination of the benefits of renewable energy across the city. “Many people in New Orleans know that the climate is doing some strange things and that renewable energy generation may be beneficial. But with more education, those individuals can be better identified and incorporated into the solutions,” says Ruda. 

As Ruda’s Fellowship has recently concluded, he continues his climate work as an urban policy specialist with the Office of Economic Development. Ruda hopes his work as a FUSE Executive Fellow will help the City and the renewable energy industry better define what resilience means for the communities they serve. “Resilient systems do not rely on people to endure abuse. New Orleanians have proven that we will try our hardest not to go anywhere. We’re going to make sure that we’re supporting our culture and our people and that everybody can visit us,” Ruda says.