Without warning, on the most bitter winter days, or the hottest of summer, smokestacks that sit idle much of the year switch online, spewing trails of climate-altering, coronavirus-exacerbating pollutants across the sky, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), known for penetrating deep into the lungs and entering the blood system.

One thousand power plants known as “peaker plants” are still operational across the U.S. Their name derives from the function they serve, shifting from idle to burning gas or oil in infrequent moments when energy demand peaks beyond average—typically when heating and cooling needs are the greatest.

In addition to being eyesores and taking up large swaths of space that might better serve the needs of crowded communities, the plants are often located alongside waste treatment facilities and other undesirable infrastructure in low-income areas and communities of color. Many of the plants were built in these locations during the era of redlining, or later, in or near areas that had been redlined. Decades down the line, many of the Black and Brown neighborhoods that host them also have the highest COVID-19 mortality rates, because of the long legacy of health inequities. An estimated 397 of every 100,000 people living in the Bronx, New York, neighborhood where a plant called Hell Gate is located have died of the virus, in comparison with the U.S. average of 171 per 100,000. In other words, the neighborhood has lost one out of every 252 residents.

An informal network of scientists, activists, and lawmakers in at least nine states have identified the plants as a first-line target to be replaced with wind, solar, and distributed battery storage, and say doing so would save money and lives. In March, a coalition of community organizations dedicated to environmental justice in New York City published a detailed report offering a blueprint for lawmakers to deliver on the vision, in two five-year waves, which they’ll introduce to the public in an April 21 webinar.

Read the full article about clean energy by Leanna First-Arai at YES! Magazine.