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Community Benefits Investments and the Clean Energy Economy

By Emma Bonanno

Ensuring diverse communities are positioned to benefit from historic clean energy investments is central to the success of state and local economic development and social justice goals. At Karp Strategies, we believe that major clean energy projects can help grow economic opportunity for all through equitable and fair strategies for communities, sensitivity to historic inequities, and advancing a just transition in the clean energy economy.

One of the greatest opportunities to advance these goals is the creation of community benefits programs and investments. When co-designed with impacted communities and stakeholders, community benefits programs can channel funding, information, capacity-building programs, and technical assistance to organizations and individuals in a way that’s equitable and tailored to diverse needs. This helps ensure that local communities and people benefit from major investments.

What do we mean when we say community benefits?

Karp Strategies was founded on the basic principle that local stakeholders deserve full inclusion and autonomy in the decisions and investments that impact their communities—as well as equitable access to the benefits. This is especially crucial within communities that have been historically marginalized but are now experiencing new investments, including disadvantaged and environmental justice communities. Community benefits strategies are a way to ensure that these communities can partake in the benefits of clean energy investments, such as good jobs, supplier contracts, and funding for community priorities and programs.

When working with public, private, and community actors to develop holistic community benefits strategies, we keep several core principles at the forefront of our work:

  • Diverse representation. The first step of any community benefits process is to develop an understanding of the full landscape of actors with a demonstrated history and connection to the community. At Karp Strategies, we engage in a comprehensive stakeholder mapping process involving desktop research on organizations and community priorities, conversations and interviews, and attendance at community events and discussions. Representatives should come from many different groups, and it’s the responsibility of the entity making the investment to conduct deep outreach to understand who should have a seat at the table. Finally, assessing community needs is critical to ensure that, once at the table, diverse stakeholders have the necessary information, capacity, and resources to participate actively.

  • Upfront and ongoing inclusion. Engagement is a core component of developing successful community benefits strategies—from the initial steps as the process is being developed and working groups are formed, through negotiations on the final structure of programs and investments, to ongoing community input as these strategies are implemented. Our team has expertise in developing inclusive end-to-end engagement strategies that ensure meaningful participation in all stages.

  • Understanding impacts. Conducting an impact analysis is critical to understand how the intersecting challenges—both historical and current—influence the way the impacts of major projects and investments manifest across communities. We see this as a prerequisite to meeting communities where they are and coming to conversations and negotiations from a place of empathy and understanding in order to drive successful outcomes for all parties.

  • Centering equity. Environmental justice communities, disadvantaged communities, and those who have borne the burden of decades of pollution and environmental racism must be at the forefront of the transition to a clean energy economy—in terms of inclusion, impact, and benefits. As a firm, we lead with equity across all parts of our methodology, advancing work that builds capacity within organizations, communities, and economies.

  • Structured implementation. We focus on the long game when developing community investment and benefits strategies, incorporating accountability benchmarks, outlining the strategic dispersal of funds, and planning for the long lifetime of projects.

What do community benefits strategies look like in action?

The strategic development of community benefits programs and investments is one of Karp Strategies’ foundational practice areas. Since her time in graduate school at MIT through her current work with offshore wind developers, economic development agencies, city governments, real estate developers, and others, Founding Principal + CEO Rebecca Karp has written and spoken extensively on the importance of intentional community benefits agreements. Over the years, the Karp Strategies team has been proud to support work on many catalytic projects that bring this intention to their investments in diverse communities.

Two recent examples of our community benefits work are highlighted below—the development of Equinor Wind US’s Offshore Wind Ecosystem Fund and the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) Green Economy Fund.

Equinor Wind US: Offshore Wind Ecosystem Fund

Private and public sector investments in emerging industries like offshore wind offer once-in-a-generation economic opportunities for communities across the region—opportunities to prioritize sustainable growth alongside racial equity and climate justice.

In 2022, Karp Strategies worked with Equinor Wind US to design and begin implementing the company’s community benefits strategy, setting it up to deliver on the $47 million in community benefits and $25 million in environmental research commitments made to New York State. The product of the first stage of this work was the launch of the $5 million Offshore Wind Ecosystem Fund, designed to make targeted investments in historically marginalized and environmental justice areas and populations in New York City.

Karp Strategies facilitated the development of the investment strategy and governance for the Fund through monthly meetings of a dedicated committee, research and advisory on fund strategy and execution, and engagement with key stakeholders and subject matter experts. This work helped define the Fund’s priority issues and ensure maximum impact for local communities, particularly in the workforce, supply chain, and economic access and growth.

Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE): Green Economy Fund

Ensuring diverse communities are positioned to benefit from historic clean energy investments is central to the success of equitable state and local economic development goals. Karp Strategies works to build inclusive design and recruitment processes for programs and funds, bringing advocates, agencies, and professionals together at the table and driving outcomes that center on social justice and economic mobility.

Karp Strategies, along with sub-consultant Empowering Work Advising (EWA), is working on launching and administering the $40 million Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) Green Economy Fund, designed to support disadvantaged communities, low-income individuals, and transitioning fossil fuel workers in accessing and building careers in New York State’s green economy. The Green Economy Fund will finance workforce development programs and organizations providing wrap-around services that support workers in these target communities to access good jobs in the green economy.

Strategically building a diverse and inclusive RFP process to identify these programs and organizations is central to increasing access to the benefits of the green economy transition—one of the Green Economy Fund’s core priorities. Karp Strategies employs a data-driven approach and leverages our expansive knowledge of New York stakeholders, state and local workforce development priorities, grant management, and the clean energy sector to support recruitment and broaden the pool of applicants. Applications for the first round of funding closed at the end of April, with additional rounds planned for the next several years.

Let us know how we can support you!

Karp Strategies' community benefits practice draws on our expertise in community economic development, large-scale renewable energy projects, and our dedication to a just transition in the energy economy. Our team has extensive experience across engagement, impact analysis, and strategy design, which we bring together to help our clients develop successful and equitable community benefits strategies that center the needs of diverse communities. Let us know how we can support your work!

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