Strategies for Equitable Implementation of EPA's GGRF

A series of sector-specific strategy guides and webinars exploring how EPA's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund can deliver a more equitable clean energy transition.


Photo courtesy of the Clean Energy Credit Union, a member of Inclusiv

This post was written by Tehmi den Braven and Sam Lee, who are Summer Schneider Fellows in NRDC's Green Finance Center. Tehmi holds a Master of Science in Bioengineering and Sam holds a Master of Arts in Sustainability Science and Practice, both from Stanford University. While at NRDC, Tehmi and Sam focus on the implementation of EPA's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF).

Recently, NRDC and the Center for Impact Finance at the University of New Hampshire (CIF) concluded a series of strategy guides and webinars on equitable greenhouse gas reduction, each addressing needs and opportunities in six (6) key community development lending markets. EPA’s $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), established by the Inflation Reduction Act, is designed to support the deployment of innovative clean energy technologies and accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy, particularly in low-income and disadvantaged communities (LIDACs). The equitable strategy guides and corresponding webinars examined how GGRF dollars can help scale investments that reduce greenhouse gas and other air pollution, as well as deliver meaningful benefits in health, resilience, and economic development in LIDACs.  

The goal of this series was to provide a roadmap for community-based lenders and other mission-driven financial institutions to ensure that all communities—especially low-income communities, communities of color, and Native nations—build resilience and fully realize the benefits of the clean energy revolution. 

The opening webinar established fundamentals to ensure the equitable and efficient deployment of the GGRF. Featuring leading practitioners and thought leaders from across the development and financing ecosystem, each of the next six webinars engaged panelists in conversation to highlight the opportunities and challenges in operationalizing greenhouse gas reduction, resilience, and environmental justice across traditional lending lines in key sectors.  

To download the six equitable strategy guides and view the accompanying webinars, visit the Center for Impact Finance’s webpage, An Equity-Centered, Collaborative Approach to Greenhouse Gas Reduction for Low-Income and Disadvantaged Communities

Highlights from each webinar are below.

Damon Burns, CEO of Finance New Orleans   
Sylvia Chi, Senior Policy Analyst at Just Solutions Collective  
Abby Corso, Chief Strategy Officer at Elevate 
Cathie Mahon, CEO of Inclusiv

Moderated by Sarah Dougherty, Director of the Green Finance Center at NRDC, the series opened with an overview of the GGRF and the core assumption fueling this work: the existing community development ecosystem is uniquely positioned to deliver greenhouse gas reduction to LIDACs and to use investments in clean energy as “wind in the sails” to achieve healthy and resilient local economies, quality jobs, affordable housing, sustainable food systems, and more. Further, the panel explored the fundamentals that are essential for rapid, impactful, and equitable deployment of the GGRF and a just transition to a clean energy economy. You can learn more about the initial discussion here

Duanne Andrade, Executive Director of Solar Energy Loan Fund (SELF)
Sage Briscoe, Director of Federal Policy at Rewiring America 
Cynthia Finley, Vice President for Workforce Strategy and Innovation of Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) 
Kerry O'Neill, CEO of Inclusive Prosperity Capital (IPC)

Moderated by Eric Hangen, Senior Fellow at CIF, the second webinar of the series focused on the small residential market sector, expanding upon the corresponding strategy guide for home appliance upgrades and energy retrofits. Panelists discussed opportunities and challenges in home electrification, tools available for lenders seeking to finance home energy improvements, and strategies for green workforce expansion. 

Duanne Andrade discussed the green lending landscape in Florida and how SELF utilizes a green homes loan platform to deliver lending solutions. The platform delivers a lending solution with revenue sharing at low cost, allows for immediate cash flow, and enables new green lenders to deploy capital with low upfront costs and investments. She then highlighted some learnings from this program and encouraged lenders to leverage existing technology while also considering how to respond to the unique priorities of homeowners in the communities they serve. 

Sage Briscoe highlighted the unique financial challenges LIDAC households face in electrifying and reducing home energy consumption, since they typically do not have the upfront resources to take on expensive retrofit projects. However, she noted that the flexibility of the GGRF has the potential to fill key gaps remaining in other federal energy programs, such as the need for pre-weatherization programs. 

Cynthia Finley discussed the National Clean Energy Workforce Alliance’s work to meet green workforce challenges and provide quality training in underserved communities, particularly through their Weatherization Assistance Program Enhancement and Innovation (WAP E&I) program. She emphasized the need for workforce diversification to build the trust and connections required for clean energy expansion in LIDACs. 

Kerry O’Neill spoke about tools available to help lenders enter the clean energy space, including IPC’s Smart-E platform that facilitates engagement with local lenders and vetted contractors. She also outlined key elements to driving demand in green lending, such as having strong partnerships with local governments, energy-based nonprofits, and contractors.  

Lauren Ahkiam, Director at Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE)
Mark James, Founder of Urban Green LLC & Heleos LLC 
Bomee Jung, Co-Founder/CEO of Cadence OneFive Inc.
Sadie McKeown, President of Community Preservation Corporation (CPC)  

Moderated by Adam Kent, the Senior Advisor in NRDC’s Green Finance Center, this webinar explored the tremendous opportunities for equitable greenhouse gas reduction, cost savings, resilience, and improved quality of life through clean energy and other “green” investments in affordable multifamily properties. The multifamily sector is responsible for almost 14% of nationwide greenhouse gas emissions, and EPA categorized net-zero buildings are a priority project type under the GGRF. Following a high-level overview of strategies for lenders to support multifamily decarbonization projects in affordable housing based on the strategy guide, panelists engaged in conversation around workforce development, technical assistance, and educating developers. 

Lauren Ahkiam highlighted the importance of working closely with local labor partners and the need for standards to promote quality jobs for skilled workers. A significant obstacle to developing a sufficient workforce is the lack of consistency in supply and demand for contractors. The GGRF has the potential to alleviate this obstacle and support a steady pipeline of work by creating more opportunities for apprenticeships and family-sustaining jobs.  

Bomee Jung discussed that while building new net zero affordable housing is important, retrofitting existing buildings represents a significant opportunity in the green building sector. A key issue is that most multifamily housing owners are not experts and do not have staff dedicated to energy rehabs in their portfolio. Cadence OneFive, a software tool, can amplify technical assistance and expertise to support stakeholders without building decarbonization experience throughout the entire journey of energy retrofits. 

Sadie McKeown emphasized the potential to drive change by leveraging capital for building decarbonization that will reduce costs for residents. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy: lenders need to tailor decarbonization strategies to the markets, climates, and political environments in which they are located. Sadie also brought up the consequences of not driving these investments: if the government doesn’t invest in low and moderate-income communities today, they will have to subsidize them to stay on fossil fuels 20-30 years in the future.  

Mark James shared his inspiration for starting Urban Green LLC and Heleos LLC: after growing up witnessing his community be displaced by gentrification, he wanted to share expertise and technical assistance with low-income families and other groups that had been left out of the development process. He made the case that the free flow of education and communicating with developers at their level will allow them to understand the short and long-term benefits of decarbonization. In addition, developers may also need subsidy to implement technologies and approaches that are unfamiliar and have long pay-back periods. Both of these strategies can help developers embrace the benefits of building decarbonization.

Jon Abe, CEO and Founder of Sunwealth
Farudh Emiel, Policy Manager at Vote Solar
Adewale OgunBadejo, Vice President of Workforce Development at GRID Alternatives
David Wright, Vice President of Energy Programs at Groundswell

Moderated by Eric Hangen, Senior Fellow at CIF, this webinar focused on community solar, defined as any solar array providing power to more than one user. The webinar discussion built on the community solar strategy guide, which offered recommendations to ensure accountability to LIDACs in solar implementation. Panelists discussed investment strategies (via the GGRF and federal tax credits) for community solar, barriers to community solar and equitable engagement in LIDACs, and considerations for equitable solar workforce development. 

Jon Abe discussed how Sunwealth aims to enable community solar through partnerships with community organizations and developers that serve low-income and BIPOC communities. Directing support toward these developers is central to building an equitable workforce and breaking the institutional barriers that keep the same developers attracting capital. He also explained how IRA programs can expand the feasibility and scale of community solar across the country, generating wealth in low-income communities. 

Farudh Emiel provided valuable insights from Vote Solar’s research on equitable engagement. He emphasized that many low-income residents face barriers in time, money, mobility, and language that prevent them from engaging deeply in public utility commission hearings that determine rulemaking in their community. Vote Solar’s Low-Income Solar Policy Guide is one resource that can help policymakers/regulators adopt a people-first approach to engaging community members. 

Adewale OgunBadejo called attention to equitable workforce considerations in solar. GRID Alternatives places a strong emphasis on delivering quality jobs and training to individuals from the same communities they serve through their solar installation work. They advocate for LIDACs to not only have access to clean energy technology, but also the employment and wealth gains that are associated with that technology. He urged solar developers to cultivate strong relationships with community partners and noted that US clean energy goals will require ready workforce development pipelines at the local level. 

David Wright highlighted some of the challenges specific to solar programs in LIDACs. Solar is more expensive in these communities because of decades of underinvestment in basic infrastructure tracing back to discriminatory policies like redlining. Groundswell develops solar projects in LIDACs, runs subscriber management programs for community solar, and reduces household energy burdens through energy efficiency programs. They also offer an Accelerating Low Income Financing and Transactions (LIFT) solar toolkit to help developers plan projects in LIDACs. 

Mark Kresowik, Senior Policy Director at The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) 
Curtis Probst, CEO of New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC) 
Becky Regan, CEO of Capital Link  
Daphany Rose Sanchez, Executive Director at Kinetic Communities Consulting

In this webinar moderated by Tina Poole Johnson, Deputy Director, CIF, panelists made the case that “greening” commercial real estate and community facilities in and serving LIDACs should be a key strategy for the EPA’s GGRF. Through strategic investments in commercial real estate and community facilities, community lenders can mitigate greenhouse gases, adapt to physical and economic changes, build resilience, and achieve environmental justice. Panelists emphasized the importance of centering meaningful community engagement, promoting climate resilience, and eliminating barriers to green projects in these facilities. 

Mark Kresowik urged participants to focus on what’s most important: people and communities, particularly systemically marginalized, under-resourced, and frontline communities. He suggested prioritizing investments in buildings that serve disadvantaged communities such as small businesses, schools serving high percentages of disadvantaged students, nonprofit organizations, and resilience hubs. Ensuring broad stakeholder involvement is the most important piece and participants should put in the effort to engage in authentic consultation before and throughout the process. This includes proper compensation for the time, effort, and expertise the community can provide. 

Daphany Rose Sanchez recommended that lenders and others working to mobilize decarbonization remember that they are not starting from scratch. It’s important to consider the role of funding within the existing ecosystem and take steps that are not disruptive but rather sustain existing businesses. Further, Daphany highlighted the importance of demystifying the underwriting stage and focusing on day-to-day operations; greenhouse gas reduction is about construction and building specifications, which means walls, roofs, windows, and HVAC systems. Strategies need to be digestible for small business owners and make it possible to swap one specification for another. One misconception is that you always need to hire large corporations to do expensive energy audits from the get-go. These soft cost barriers prohibit entry to solar decarbonization—a key opportunity for smaller, local firms that already know and have established trust in their community. 

Becky Regan explained that power is essential for health. Without power, community health centers cannot open their doors; electronic records are not accessible, medications go bad, and medical equipment becomes unusable. Becky emphasized the vital role that community health centers play in addressing racial and economic health disparities and the need to improve their sustainability and resilience. Climate-resilient health centers can serve patients during climate-related disasters and are worthy of investment. To provide community health centers across the country with access to resilient green energy through solar and storage, Capital Link, Collective Energy, and the National Association of Community Health Centers have formed the CHARGE Partnership to show property owners the benefits — avoided costs, resiliency, and operational stability—and to create some urgency around taking advantage of currently-available Federal benefits. 

Curtis Probst discussed the importance of having a holistic approach to serving communities and offering a variety of loan products to fill gaps in the market. Therefore, NYCEEC provides access to capital for buildings and projects that have difficulty sourcing market financing, such as mid-cycle projects and those without real estate collateral. They try to eliminate barriers such as energy audits when projects provide established environmental benefits. However, engineering assessments are sometimes important for the borrower’s understanding as well as NYCEEC’s underwriting. NYCEEC underwrites to savings, and Curtis emphasized that it’s important not to conflate income with credit performance. NYCEEC has found that lending in low to moderate-income communities has better credit performance than in non-LMI communities. 

For a deeper dive, check out the accompanying strategy guide

Randy Chambers, President of Self-Help Credit Union 
Michelle Corson, Founder/CEO of On the Road Companies  
Bryn Grunwald, Carbon-Free Transportation Associate at RMI  
Terea Macomber, Senior Program Associate at Clean Energy Works

Moderated by Tina Poole Johnson, Deputy Director, CIF, this webinar focused on electric vehicles and other clean mobility strategies. Zero-emissions transportation is the final priority project category under the GGRF. During the webinar, panelists discussed the need for alternative forms of transportation, improving public transportation, increasing accessibility to charging infrastructure, workforce needs, and more.  

To frame the conversation, Terea Macomber touched on the intersection between transportation and equity, bringing up the US history of dividing communities with highways, subjecting LIDACs to pollution from transportation, and using busing as a desegregation strategy. Terea emphasized the opportunity—transportation sector accounted for 29% of emissions in 2021 – to not only decarbonize transportation but also reconcile the devastating impacts of these zoning and policy decisions. Terea explained that Clean Energy Works is focused on electrifying school buses across the nation to reduce the harmful effects of pollution. School buses make up the largest fleet in the nation—about 480,000 buses—and transport 25 million school age children each year. Bus electrification also enhances resilience for the grid; the large bus batteries are available most of the day and can power the grid in times of high need. This approach is not limited to school buses; BlueHub Capital is piloting a vehicle to grid project in Massachusetts where utility companies pay anyone with a battery to discharge it during peak times. 

Bryn Grunwald described the Avoid-Shift-Improve Framework for decarbonizing transportation, which involves avoiding or reducing overall travel, shifting investments away from car-based infrastructure to more energy efficient mobility options, and improving vehicle efficiency. These solutions go beyond electrifying cars: a city in Arkansas attracted businesses and increased foot traffic by getting rid of minimum parking requirements, and Denver started an extremely successful E-bike rebate program. Low-income individuals who participated in the rebate program traveled 32 miles a week on average with their E-bikes. This demonstrates that alternative forms of transportation need to be treated as serious transportation models rather than secondary to EVs.  

Michelle Corson highlighted the opportunity to reinvest in trade industries, building out the workforce of the future in EV tech. Cars are becoming more technological and computer-heavy, meaning that the requisite skilled labor is different than 10 years ago. This provides an opportunity to create quality jobs and train mechanics to use specialized equipment and mitigate the risk of fires. Further, Michelle cautioned participants that electrifying transportation is not enough; we must remember the risk of shifting emissions upstream if the source of electricity generation is not clean. 

Randy Chambers described the challenge of transitioning to EVs as one of affordability and accessibility. Accessibility is more than a matter of whether EVs are conveniently available, it also includes availability of charging infrastructure, ability to navigate tax credits and other incentives. To ensure that the US economy doesn’t leave low-income communities behind, the cost of entry to EV ownership needs to be reduced. Existing ownership solutions, such as tax credits, are ineffective for low and moderate-income families who may have insufficient tax liability in the year they purchase a vehicle. GGRF funds can provide an alternative to tax credits by creating a secondary market with a standard product that recipients could offer to lenders across the country. Subsidy dollars would allow them to support loans with much lower interest rates, making electric vehicles more accessible to low-income communities.  

The corresponding strategy guide to this discussion will be available soon here.   

Lynn Abramson, President of Clean Energy Business Network 
Keith Bisson, President of Coastal Enterprises Inc (CEI) 
Stephen Morel, CEO of Montgomery County Green Bank 
Cortney Piper, Founder and Executive Director of Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC)  

Moderated by Hannah Vargason, Research Finance Fellow at CIF, the final webinar focused on opportunities for greening the small business sector, which accounts for 44% of overall energy use across buildings in the US. This webinar stemmed from the strategy guide for equitable GGRF investments in small business. Panelists covered green technology adoption in LIDACs, clean energy financing incentives for small businesses, tools and technical assistance, and growing business networks for clean energy. 

Lynn Abramson discussed the wide range of financing mechanisms provided in IRA and the challenges for LIDACs navigating these funding opportunities. CEBN aggregates these opportunities in a US Cleantech Funding Database. She also urged lenders to consider how to unite buyers and suppliers of clean energy technology to make financing work via incentives, technical assistance, and networking. Many clean energy suppliers in CEBN struggle with the capital costs of their own manufacturing needs and could benefit from lending programs. 

Keith Bisson spoke on the importance of addressing barriers to adoption of new technology in LIDAC and rural communities. He called out inequities in the predominant trickle-down model of new technology adoption, where urban centers are the main beneficiaries and low-income rural communities are left behind. He also noted that addressing the capital challenges of upgrading infrastructure in LIDACs will be critical to bringing down energy costs for small businesses. 

Stephen Morel emphasized the need to build demand and educate businesses on the value proposition of clean energy investing. To ensure greater adoption, financial products for clean energy must be able to fit into small businesses’ rapidly moving cycle and working capital needs. He also spoke about how partnerships between green banks and CDFIs can crowd in private sector investment for small community-focused projects by layering financial incentives. 

Cortney Piper highlighted TAEBC’s efforts to champion advanced energy as an economic development and job creation strategy in Tennessee. TAEBC’s Energy Network provides mentoring and coaching to clean energy startups and entrepreneurs in Tennessee to position them to raise capital, access grants, and scale their companies. They also hold events for local power companies to speak directly with technology providers about different clean energy options and financing mechanisms. 

Related Blogs