Newswise — Partner forum connects Chicago-based community organizations with resources and funding for inclusive, clean energy initiatives.

Over 80 community leaders, researchers and representatives from industry and civic agencies recently convened on Chicago’s South Side to discuss opportunities for partnership in pursuit of a clean energy future for all. Held on April 23, the event marked the second Argonne in Chicago Partner Forum hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory at its second location in the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago.

The forum titled ​“Funding clean energy solutions powered by science and technology” focused on connecting Chicago-based community leaders and organizations with resources and funding opportunities available through state and federal funding programs aimed at promoting equitable clean energy solutions and workforce development.

“It was a pleasure to see such strong participation at the Partner Forum and share some of the progress we have made working with our community partners,” said Argonne Laboratory Director Paul Kearns. ​“We’ve forged numerous collaborations that are advancing inclusive innovation across the South Side and throughout the Chicago region. We look forward to increasing our impact together.”

“Together, we are setting a standard for how government and scientific communities can unite to create tangible, impactful changes that align with our dedication to justice and equity.” — Rose Dady, Director of Community Engagement, DOE Office of State and Community Energy Programs

The forum’s agenda included updates from Kearns and other Argonne representatives on partnerships between the lab, community members and local officials to advance initiatives focused on addressing climate change and environmental justice. Congressman Jonathan Jackson, who serves Illinois’s First Congressional District, also provided insightful remarks at the event.

“The imperative shift towards clean energy innovations stands as a national priority that is embraced by many of Chicago’s communities. The Argonne in Chicago Partner Forum is one of the ways we are convening our local communities, civic leaders and industry partners to delve into funding opportunities and foster collaborative partnerships. Together, our concerted strengths and efforts can significantly advance the deployment of clean energy technologies, paving the way for an inclusive and equitable energy transition within Chicago’s South Side communities,” said Robyn Wheeler Grange, director of Argonne’s Office of Community Engagement.

Argonne’s presence in Chicago helps to bridge the gap between academia, industry and the community and serves as a catalyst for innovation in Chicago and the Great Lakes region. For example, forum panelists highlighted Great Lakes ReNEW, a Regional Innovation Engine recently funded by the National Science Foundation. The engine aims to create new ways of extracting valuable minerals and toxic chemicals from wastewater, and to promote workforce development for the water sector.

“To address grand challenges in the water sector, Great Lakes ReNEW brings together researchers, startups and industry end users to develop emerging water technologies,” said Melissa Pierce, technical program director for Current, a Chicago-based, water-focused innovation hub that leads the engine. Argonne and the University of Chicago are partners in the effort. ​“Settings like today’s forum are important for connecting these groups to assess shared priorities and maximize the impact of our efforts.”

With recent historic federal investment in clean and equitable energy — including the Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Justice40 initiative — it is more important than ever to engage and mobilize local communities to usher in a sustainable and inclusive energy transition.

“It’s a privilege to stand at the intersection of policy and progress, where initiatives like Justice40 aren’t just policy statements but active commitments,” said forum panelist Rose Dady. Dady serves as director of community engagement for DOE’s Office of State and Community Energy Programs, which exists to support community-serving organizations in implementing sustainable, clean energy projects that center and uplift disadvantaged communities. ​“Collaborating with partners like Argonne enables us to leverage cutting-edge research and technology, ensuring that our energy solutions are both innovative and inclusive to those who have historically been left behind.”

Panelists at the forum offered overviews of agency priorities and funding opportunities with the goal of bringing community and industry leaders into a dialogue to accelerate deployment of community investments.

“We are working to shift the environmental and economic injustices affecting our underserved communities so that energy is equitably distributed throughout the state of Illinois,” said Hilary Scott-Ogunrinde, forum panelist and deputy director of energy and utility for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. ​“We need to remove barriers to funding and equip community organizations and leaders on the ground who can most effectively implement these initiatives.”

Forum attendees represented some of the most prominent and engaged community-based organizations in Chicago. For example, the Urban Growers Collective is a non-profit focused on building stronger, healthier communities through urban agriculture. Based on Chicago’s South Side, the organization serves as a blueprint for equitable and successful community-led research partnerships.

“We are forging new pathways for community wealth-building that prevent the introduction of disparity issues,” said Erika Allen, co-founder and CEO of the Urban Growers Collective and co-owner of Green Era Sustainability Partners, which seeks to improve management of biodegradable waste and access to soil. ​“This involves cultivating educational opportunities for future innovators in green tech, as well as honoring, protecting and recognizing community intelligence and expertise.”

Attendees also participated in multiple workshops where facilitators from DOE, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity detailed how to apply for funding for projects that promote the use of renewable energy in underserved communities.

“Meetings like this are powerful for connecting the dots,” said Joseph Smith, a community solar developer and CEO of ADL Solutions, LLC, an electrical contracting company specializing in solar and electric vehicle installations. ​“They provide small businesses with access to resources that can make deployment of renewable technologies possible.”

Smith was part of a local team that received a Community Power Accelerator Prize as part of an initiative of the DOE’s National Community Solar Partnership. A workshop at the forum highlighted opportunities available through the partnership, which connects developers, investors, philanthropists and community-based organizations to finance and deploy equitable community solar projects.

“Together, we are setting a standard for how government and scientific communities can unite to create tangible, impactful changes that align with our dedication to justice and equity,” said Dady.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology by conducting leading-edge basic and applied research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.