By Hannah Goetz
Marcolina Martinez wants her community to find a bright spot amidst the gloom of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The disabled grandmother, born and raised in New York City, is no stranger to weathering a crisis. When she was just 14 years old, Martinez was bouncing around domestic violence shelters with her mother and three younger sisters—hoping to escape her abusive father. Seeking comfort, they left to live with family in the Puerto Rican city of Ponce.
“My mother wanted to take us home, to her country,” says Martinez, who had no idea that her new home, known as “La Perla del Sur,” would prove to be anything but a safe haven.
At just 16 years old, struggling in school and desperate to get out of the house, Martinez married into the same vicious cycle her mother had escaped. When she turned 18, Martinez gave birth to the first of her eight children. Following years of abuse, Martinez fled back to the United States to build a new life as a family of nine.
Then, in 2007, with her children grown and living with their own families, Martinez returned to Ponce, this time fleeing the cold winters in New England.
Ten years later, Hurricane Maria devastated the life Martinez had built for herself in Puerto Rico and forced her to relocate back to the United States.
“It was terrible,” she says, describing the destruction to her community as heartbreaking and “so, so sad.” She had witnessed the storms that battered the territory return with increasing severity and frequency each year, but could never have imagined what warming waters would cost her. Compounding her woes was a tumor pressing on her brain.
Finding solace amongst family in Boston, the mother of eight successfully underwent surgery but is once again facing extraordinary circumstances. Living with dangerous underlying health conditions, including asthma and diabetes, Martinez cannot leave her one bedroom Hyde Park apartment amid concerns of COVID-19. Her children call her to say, “Please stay home, Mami.”
At 55 years old, Martinez hopes to see her 25 grandchildren grow up to build homes without fear that one day they may be swept away. Seeking to foster resiliency in her community for generations to come, while getting by on a limited disability income, Martinez found a little sunny reprieve in a new initiative that offers the promise of renewable energy and financial relief—all without leaving her home.
Marcolina and 625 other households will unlock access to previously costly green energy at a 50% discount because a closed landfill in Ashland is now home to a 5.8 megawatt low-income community solar farm. The new project offers subscribers about $300 in annual electricity savings and the deepest discount on solar energy in the state.
Excited about the opportunity to finally take a stand against global warming after it forced her from the city she was finally prepared to call home, Martinez is also looking forward to the added benefit of saving money. “The electric bill will be cheaper for me now,” she says, explaining that even a little savings can go a long way.
Martinez, who has dedicated her life to building a future for her family, believes community solar is a tool that can help everyone find their footing as costs increase and climate change creeps its way into our daily lives. Access to renewable energy has long been restricted to wealthy homeowners, but, through this new program, Martinez is joining a new wave of renters building equity in both their futures and those of their families.
The ground-mounted array, built with almost 16,000 panels, was developed by Citizens Energy Corporation and is one of six arrays comprising the company’s cutting-edge JOE-4-SUN program. The Boston-based non-profit uses energy from its projects to provide discount green power to Massachusetts, New York and California families in need. The company was founded by former U.S. Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II in 1979 to make life’s basic needs more affordable. Citizens Energy’s first projects provided discount heating oil and in the last ten years have transitioned to affordable renewable energy.
“We are a different kind of energy company,” says Kennedy, who has dedicated his career to fighting industry norms and economic inequality. “We are building equity, resiliency and community by putting money back into the pockets of those so often left behind.”
While there is little the average person can do about the global pandemic, Martinez says there is a little something the average person can do to build a brighter and cleaner future.
Her hopeful attitude, she says, comes from her faith. She wears a gold Claddagh ring, which in Irish culture represents love, with a heart held by flanking hands, but to Martinez it represents the heart of Christ. “I wear it because I want Him close,” says Martinez, and because it reminds her that she has the strength she needs to support her family.
Moreover, she wants to help others and thinks JOE-4-SUN is one way to assist households struggling to get by. “I want to tell lots of people about this, especially the savings,” says Martinez. By signing up for JOE-4-SUN, Martinez says everyday families can both cut household electricity costs and protect their children’s futures.
She mailed in a paper application and expects to see savings on her utility bill in the next 30 to 60 days.
The solar array will soon be live and spots in the program are limited. Families can apply online at www.citizensenergy.com or call (855) JOE-4-SUN.