icon-search icon-programRelatedInvestments icon-missionRelatedInvestments icon-lowIncomeHousingTaxCredit icon-technology icon-placeBased icon-loanGuarantee icon-minority icon-equityInvestments icon-close calendar chevron-thin-up chevron-thin-down chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-youtube icon-caret icon-lock icon-star-in-circle heart-icon home-icon dashboard-icon messages-icon user-icon

Climate Equity Initiative Places the South Front and Center

The Southern+ Climate Equity Accelerator brings together about 20 green banks, CDFIs and other green community lenders across the south. 

By Erica Sweeney 

The South is home to many climate-vulnerable and energy-burdened communities, made all the more so by a lack of adequate policies, programs, and capital providers to address these issues. 

That’s where the new Southern+ Climate Equity Accelerator (SCEA+) comes in. Launched in July by the Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF), SCEA+ strives to help low- and moderate-income communities in the South move toward a clean-energy economy. 

“The goal is to ensure that the Southern+ region doesn’t get left out of the Inflation Reduction Act funding opportunities and is well-positioned to receive and deploy funds to help us all transition to a just and equitable clean-energy economy,” says Duanne Andrade, SELF’s executive director. 

About 20 green banks, CDFIs and other green community lenders across the South are participating in the accelerator, Andrade says. SELF has raised $2 million to support the initiative, and there’s no fee to join the accelerator. 

“It’s a training on how to set up, create, and operate a green loan fund,” Andrade says. SELF provides access to technical assistance, loan capital, data measurement tools, contractor development strategies, workforce development funds, grants, and more. 

Next City spoke to Andrade about why a green-lending accelerator is so important for the South. 

Why is a program like this needed in the South? 

The whole region lacks proactive policies for clean energy and has been left behind in the clean-energy focus. It doesn’t have state-led initiatives that are thinking about how we're going to protect these vulnerable communities, how we're going to mitigate, adapt, and transition to a clean energy economy that's really going to help low- and moderate-income communities the most. 

The South also has the highest energy burden in proportion to income of the whole country. This region has a very high concentration of Black and Brown communities. The South also has the lowest average FICO scores in comparison to the rest of the country, which means working-class families and low- and moderate-income families don't have access to equitable capital.

They're paying more for energy. They're paying more for capital. They're paying more for insurance because they live in more vulnerable communities that are constantly impacted by climate events. And, they live in older stock homes. 

The accelerator was a response to a necessity that we identified in working with stakeholders across the southern region and realizing we need to help prepare. 

As the only green-bank, hybrid CDFI in the region that's been around for 10 years, we understand the challenges of working in these markets, working without state support, and accessing and raising capital. We felt a responsibility to not only help prepare the whole region, but by creating a regional block, we would strengthen our position to be able to ensure equitable and fair funding down to Florida and the rest of the region. 

What has the response been among the organizations participating?  

I think they are appreciative of the fact that we're providing tools where they can start generating revenue and also start creating a track record. We're sharing all the knowledge we can. There are many established networks doing some of this work.

The reason we did this and called it Southern+ is because we are providing tools that we know work in the South. There isn’t a silver bullet, and there is not just one standard product created in New York that's going to work in Florida. 

Will the accelerator be an ongoing project for SELF? 

That's a great question. This came up very organically. It's a SELF initiative. But what it becomes is really going to be up to those who are benefiting and participating to decide whether it becomes something long-lasting and something of its own. As long as it's providing value and benefit to the region, SELF is willing to keep it going and continue to raise funds. 

How can organizations sign up for the accelerator? 

The accelerator is open to anybody who wants to participate and bring ideas and support. It’s an open, inclusive space. There's no application — just send us an email. We'll just sign them up, and they'll be invited to all the cool stuff that we're bringing to the table.

This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lenses of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is developed in partnership with Next City.