Grantee Spotlights

COVID-19 Stories: Keeping the Lights On

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The challenge is getting through the door.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, it posed a unique problem for accelerating efforts to make household energy more efficient and affordable. While solar panels can be installed on rooftops, electrical systems can’t be upgraded without entering a house and interacting with a homeowner.

Contractors are avoiding that immediate health threat, but it jeopardizes their economic survival.

“We immediately realized all our contractors were at risk,” said Anne Evens (pictured above), CEO of Elevate Energy, a Chicago-based nonprofit that works with contractors and entrepreneurs to create a diverse and equitable clean-energy workforce in the Midwest.

The urgent mission now, Evens said, is helping small-business partners survive the crisis and scaling up innovations to help the industry play an important role in the country’s recovery.

So Elevate Energy -- celebrating its 20th anniversary this year -- is offering emergency loans, “side by side” assistance with federal stimulus applications, equipment upgrades, and help with modeling and remote home-energy assessments. It’s digitizing paperwork, doubling down on training, and listening intently to communities’ needs to better advocate with policymakers.

Among its partners is WindSoleil, a 5-year-old renewable energy company. The Chicago-area business was impacted by COVID-19 and had to lay off a number of staff. However, despite the setback, WindSoleil is committed to carrying out its mission of providing people with affordable renewable energy options, “so that communities and the people within them can be energy self-sufficient.”

“Like so many other companies, we’re doing what we can,” said Theodore Asafu-Adjaye, CEO of WindSoleil. “However, we are not discouraged. Now more than ever we can see the impact that we can make in our local communities and even globally, and we’re committed to carrying out our mission.”

Separately, Elevate Energy is delivering groceries to seniors and bottled water to people who lost service connections -- particularly in underserved communities of color, where it understood why the virus would hit harder, due to the underlying inequities it has long worked to alleviate.

For Evens, efficient and renewable energy is the solution to many problems exposed by COVID-19. That means partnering with companies like WindSoleil to help the renewable energy sector strive, not only solving climate and environment concerns, but reducing utility and housing costs, lessening health threats, providing job opportunities and building wealth in communities.

“It really requires us to accelerate the decarbonization of our economy,” she said. “What we can be hopeful about is that there are solutions. We know what we need to do.

About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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