Editor’s Note: This post is the third of NACHC’s three-part series highlighting health center readiness in response to the upcoming hurricane season. Read about the first net-zero health center and Florida health centers.
Of all the cities confronting the realities of climate change, New Orleans faces a range of challenges – inequitable redlining and housing policies, a high rate of people experiencing poverty, extreme weather events, not to mention that large swaths of the city are below sea level. Hurricane Katrina unleashed unprecedented devastation to the city in 2005, followed by Hurricane Ida in 2021. For days, most of the city went without power. In some low-income neighborhoods, power outages occurred for more than a month, risking many people’s health and lives. Approximately 19 residents died from excessive heat, lack of oxygen, or carbon monoxide poisoning.
The power disruption also affected Community Health Centers in the area as they struggled to provide care to patients, many of whom are in Justice40 communities, or communities that have been systemically marginalized. CrescentCare Community Health Center lost over $250,000 in medicines and vaccines because their gas-powered generators failed. Learning from what happened during Hurricane Ida, CrescentCare has acknowledged that people experiencing poverty and racial and ethnic populations are inequitably affected by climate change. That is one reason the health center took steps to turn into a resilience hub to mitigate the effects of climate change and weather events.
The effort started in June 2022, thanks to Direct Relief, which awarded CrescentCare $650,000 to fund solar microgrids and backup battery systems. The grant is part of Direct Relief’s Power for Health Initiative, which aims to help health centers stay powered through natural disasters and power outages. This grant goes directly in hand with the Community Lighthouse Project, created by the nonprofit coalition Together Louisiana. A lighthouse will serve as a place of refuge for nearby residents to access necessities, such as cooling and charging stations, food, water, and other resources during disasters. This coalition started after many backup generators failed during Hurricane Ida. CrescentCare is one of the locations that will serve as a lighthouse to ensure that health services will remain operational during power outages.
Why Solar + Storage for CrescentCare?
“The number one reason for installing solar panels and backup batteries is to maintain service delivery and access for our vulnerable patients in the community,” said Reginald Vicks, Chief Operations Officer of CrescentCare. The health center also aims to become as green as possible and to play a role in eliminating harmful environmental conditions. For example, reducing the health center’s carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions will improve air quality for everyone in the community.
Cost savings from lower utility bills paired with incentives for installing solar + storage is expected to give CrescentCare a large financial return. The Inflation Reduction Act updated and expanded the investment tax credit (ITC) for solar and battery storage resilient projects. The ITC was raised to 30% coverage of an eligible project through 2032. The change significantly raises anticipated savings for solar projects. There are also many bonus credits to take advantage of, including four that are in alignment with the Low-Income Communities Bonus Credit Program. When paired with tax incentives, there are large financial savings to be had when it comes to solar + storage.
Solar + Storage Resources for Health Centers
Health centers considering solar microgrids and back-up battery systems may want to check out the Community Health Access to Resilient Green Energy (CHARGE) partnership. Charge is a collaboration between NACHC, Collective Energy, and Capital Link and provides energy options for health centers supporting communities that are vulnerable to grid outages and have patient populations disproportionately affected chronic disease, poverty and racial and ethnic health inequities. To learn more about how climate change impacts patient health or the importance of resiliency energy systems visit:
Julia Dempsey, MPH, is an Environmental Health Program Associate with NACHC’s Public Health Priorities Division.