Creating Equitable Access to Energy Opportunities
Alumnus Delmar Gillus (B.S. ’93, mechanical engineering) is no stranger to creating equity opportunities in the energy space. For over ten years, he has served as the Chief Operations Officer (COO) of Elevate, a nonprofit that seeks to co-create a world where everyone has clean and affordable heat, power, and water in their homes and communities—no matter who they are or where they live. Delmar stepped away from his usual COO role to focus on increasing contractor diversity and launching energy assistance, community solar, and smart grid programs for Illinois utility consumers.
Through that work as an equity advocate, he became a lead negotiator for Illinois environmental organizations and helped write the recently passed Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). This landmark legislation aims to make significant and equitable changes to state energy policy, leading to considerable energy efficiency savings.
“The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act is, to put it in a nutshell, is a game-changer,” Gillus said in a recent interview for WTTW. “It is going to create tens of thousands of jobs in underserved and environmental justice communities. It will create opportunities for those who want to get into the space from a job creation, entrepreneurship perspective. CEJA is also going to reduce, significantly, the amount of pollution in underserved communities.”
Gillus is not only passionate about making community-level change through grassroots efforts, but he also wants to inspire and motivate future engineers—especially young engineers of color—to be advocates of change through their work. As a member and eventual president of the UMD’s Black Engineers Society (BES), he understands and appreciates the importance of having alumni role models.
“I experienced first-hand the barriers and challenges of Black and Brown engineering students as a member of BES. Thanks to the Center for Minorities in Science and Engineering (CMSE), under the leadership of Rosemary Parker, I was set up for success and always felt supported even during the tough times,” Gillus said. “When I became an upperclassman, it was important to give back and support the underclassmen. I continued that after graduation as a tutor, mentor, and big brother in the Big Brother/Big Sister program.”
His transition from mentor and role model to policy advocate came about through his work with Elevate. “Through our projects, I saw how communities that had been underserved were disproportionately impacted by pollution, had limited access to good-paying environmental jobs, and were struggling with environmental waste in their communities.”
“This [act] is an example of how we can problem-solve these kinds of challenges with people on technical, social and legal issues,” Gillus added. “My experiences and learnings at Maryland as a mechanical engineer and as a member of BES taught me how to solve complex problems. These lessons were applicable to not just solving technical challenges, but also business and social challenges.”
In an effort to both pave the way to a 100% clean-energy future in Illinois and support equitable renewable energy job opportunities, one of the key components of CEJA is an $80-million investment in workforce and contractor development programs through the creation of 13 state-wide training hubs.
“[These hubs] will provide support for workers, providing things like tools and placement services and retention services and travel stipend and for, those that need them, child care,” Gillus told WTTW. “There are going to be workforce hubs that will be providing pre-apprenticeships as well, so that those who are interested in getting jobs in the solar industry, especially from underserved communities, will have access to a plethora of training options and support.”
Now is a great time to be an engineer, especially an engineer of color. We have big problems to solve that cut across every socio-economic, political, and cultural group. Climate change affects everyone. We need diverse problem solvers to bring new and innovative ideas to the table in order to save our planet. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act is an important step in that process, but we need more community leaders, clean energy workers, scientists, and engineers to accomplish our goals.
In addition to workforce investments, the act will create a “Green Bank” to provide seed capital for disadvantaged businesses to finance future clean energy projects.
“What we’re trying to do is focus on community wealth building and job creation, especially in under-served communities where these opportunities have often left these people behind,” Gillus said in an interview on Elevate’s climate series on Chicago’s CAN TV.
Beyond these efforts, the act aims to increase electric vehicle deployment, energy storage deployment, and energy efficiency savings while enhancing transparency and accountability among utility companies.
Looking ahead, Gillus acknowledges that with the bill passed, their work has only begun.
“The initial implementation phase is going to be critical,” Gillus told The Real News. “We need to get all of these programs set up in a way where the community is engaged. Now, we need to work on rulemaking, regulation, and implementation processes so that all programs serve the communities as designed.”
In the wake of passing this historic legislation, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker appointed Gillus as a Member of the IL Future of Work Task Force in the administration. The task force’s charge is to identify emerging technologies that could significantly impact employment, wages, and skill requirements in the state. Gillus is excited about the work ahead.
“Now is a great time to be an engineer, especially an engineer of color. We have big problems to solve that cut across every socio-economic, political, and cultural group. Climate change affects everyone,” Gillus said. “We need diverse problem solvers to bring new and innovative ideas to the table in order to save our planet. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act is an important step in that process, but we need more community leaders, clean energy workers, scientists, and engineers to accomplish our goals. As I said at the bill signing, ‘…let’s get to work! There is much to do.’”
In recognition of the work Gillus put into the success of Illinois’ Climate and Equity Jobs Act, the IL Environmental Council presented him with the Karen May Green Caucus Advocacy Award during their annual awards ceremony held October 5, 2021.
“The green caucus is a block of IL legislators who have fought to protect the environment and who had a tremendous impact on passing the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act,” said Gillus. “To be recognized by them and the IL Environmental Council is a humbling experience and a great honor.”
Published October 5, 2021