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Sloan Foundation Grant to Support Equitable Transition to Renewables
Minnesota Ag Connection - 08/15/2022

The shift to renewable energy is projected to increase as the world transitions to a low-carbon energy system. The expansion of wind, solar, hydropower, biofuels and other low-carbon technologies has not accelerated at the pace needed to respond to the climate crisis and often there is a lack of equity and opportunities for communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.

To help address these issues, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded a three-year, $500,000 grant to researchers from Penn State, University of Minnesota, University of Richmond, Kansas State University and Barry University in Florida.

The team will collaborate with communities to design a framework for creating policies that mitigate the impacts of climate change for a more just transition to renewables, while expanding renewable energy production in the most vulnerable communities with environmental justice considerations.

"Penn State strives to facilitate a just and equitable energy transition, one that effectively navigates the tradeoffs between environmental impact and economic prosperity," said Lee Kump, John Leone Dean in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State. "Interdisciplinary projects like this are key to satisfying these objectives, and we're grateful to the Sloan Foundation for their support and partnership in this effort."

Penn State's members of the research team are Jennifer Baka, associate professor geography, and Hannah Wiseman, professor of law and Wilson Faculty Fellow in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

"I'm excited to work on this project to help communities transition to clean energy futures, particularly regions with a history of fossil fuel extraction," said Baka. "The Sloan Foundation funding will allow us to develop much needed policy tools to help communities navigate such transitions."

The project, titled "Just Energy Transitions and Place," will examine how place-based considerations should be incorporated in federal or state energy-transition initiatives. Understanding unique local considerations such as extreme weather events, environmental and health impacts from the energy sector, political dynamics, tribal land dispossession, land loss and historical inequities will guide the research team in developing a framework based on a broad set of factors.

"Developing effective policy tools to support workers and communities affected by the transition requires a better understanding of place-based differences," said Wiseman. "This research will help the research community and policymakers better understand these differences and address them."

Researchers will conduct interviews and focus groups in Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. Project funds will also be used to train and support graduate students from multiple institutions in law, public policy, urban planning and geography.

The research will help build on the growing body of literature on energy transition policy by identifying opportunities for cross-state learning in policy design and areas where place-based context must be considered for effective and responsive policymaking, according to the researchers. The engagement of communities through interviews and focus groups will help to ensure the research is connected to the lived experience of communities facing energy transitions.

"This project will make critical contributions to our understanding of how different communities across the country experience energy transitions. It will cover a diverse array of geographies, and this multidisciplinary team brings a wide range of expertise in conducting research that is locally oriented," said Evan Michelson, program director at the Sloan Foundation.

Founded in 1934 by industrialist Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the foundation is a not-for-profit grant-making institution that supports high quality, impartial scientific research; fosters a robust, diverse scientific workforce; strengthens public understanding and engagement with science; and promotes the health of the institutions of scientific endeavor.

The goal of Sloan Foundation's Energy and Environment program is to inform the societal transition toward low-carbon energy systems in the United States by investigating economic, environmental, technological and distributional issues.


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