From metropolitan to mountain views, Caetano de Campos Lopes is continuing his environmental work as Charlottesville Climate Collaborative’s new director of climate policy.
After growing up in Brazil, the São Paulo native spent much of his adult life in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he worked in economics and eventually in his dream field of climate policy. It also was there that he met his wife and began to find a new home in Charlottesville.
“My wife is American,” de Campos Lopes said. “She moved here at 1 year old with her parents.”
It was a desire to connect with her Argentinian family members that lead to her going to Buenos Aires. After she and de Campos Lopes moved to Charlottesville, he began working for American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. De Campos Lopes said he still serves as a consultant in his spare time, but as he grew interested in C3, he excitedly applied for his new role when he saw an opening.
De Campos Lopes, who holds a master’s in environmental management and economics, previously worked for the city of Buenos Aires and led the city’s assessment of clean energy projects.
But breaking into the climate sector wasn’t a straightforward path. He worked for a time in investment banking and brings applicable skills to his policy roles.
“I always wanted to transition to the climate sector. I’m an economist. Although I can see the relevance of having an economist in the environmental sector, it wasn’t always an easy transition because usually, when you have a degree in economics, you can find a lot of jobs in banks but it’s not as easy to knock on the door of an environmental nonprofit and say, ‘Hey, I’m an economist. Want to hire me?’”
He said that as the city of Buenos Aires was establishing its clean energy department, his background ended up being an asset.
“I was like, ‘Yay, it’s my time,’” de Campos Lopes said.
While working in the department, he said he was part of various projects to enhance sustainability and climate resilience.
“It was very cool because when I started, I was the advisor to the director on financial assessment of every climate policy. The budget was about 2.5 million of clean energies, but after two years our budget was almost 15 million,” de Campos Lopes said. “Because we started to structure climate policy in a way that we could actually show the mayor the value of the policies, that was actually the return of the policies.”
De Campos Lopes said environmental policies are important but that showing that a policy can have a clear economic benefit for localities as well as its residents is important as well.
Buenos Aires went on to become the first Latin American city to declare a goal of carbon neutrality, a stance Charlottesville recently took. De Campos Lopes said he is thrilled to have witnessed it twice.
He is aligned with C3 on valuing the intersection of climate policy with other solutions.
While in Buenos Aires one initiative he worked on was promoting demand-side management initiatives to reduce the city’s emissions of greenhouse gases and shave the community-wide peak electricity demand, reducing the probability of power outages due to insufficient generation capacity or inadequate transmission infrastructure. The outages were a common problem faced by the city, that disproportionately affects economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“I think that it’s very important to build the understanding that climate policies are complementary to other social policies,” he said. “It’s important to understand that an equitable and prosperous future both for a social and economic aspect will require and engagement of social and climate policies.”
Now, de Campos Lopes is involved in C3’s recent pilot program with Local Energy Alliance Program to incentivize landlord’s acceptance of housing vouchers through upgrading infrastructure to be more environmentally friendly and energy-reducing. The policy was developed by C3 and LEAP. The program would lower utility bills, which can weigh heavily on low-income households, and help prevent voucher holders from having to relocate farther and farther out of the city.
The Housing Voucher Energy Efficiency Pilot’s projected benefits include increasing the number of rental options for residents with housing vouchers, while opening the stagnant waitlist for residents in need of housing assistance, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and energy use in the residences, and lessening the energy cost burden for low income residents.
“As climate advocates, we want to see people living in the communities where they work,” said Susan Kruse, executive director of C3.
The initiative offers up to $10,000 in forgivable loans to landlords for energy-efficient improvements to their rental properties, which can include updates to heating and cooling systems, LED lighting, water heaters and insulation. The landlords must commit to accept vouchers for five years with loans forgiven at a rate of 20% each year, and they will be administered by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
Funding for the pilot largely comes from LEAP, with money on hand from the city and a grant from Dominion Energy.
Recently, the Housing Advisory Committee approved the program and final revisions to the policy are currently underway. About 10 landlords are expected to participate.
Rebecca Quinn owns two properties in Charlottesville that she rents for lower than market rate and is interested in participating in VEEP. She had seen public information about LEAP and later discovered C3 from attending the housing advisory committee’s subcommittee meetings.
Quinn says the connection of energy efficiency with affordability attracts her to the idea of the pilot.
“When tenants have lower heating and a/c costs, and lower electric usage and lower water consumption, the more likely they’ll be able to stay on top of their monthly rent,” Quinn said. “I’m still exploring what it takes to qualify to accept housing vouchers, so I don’t yet know if I’ll go that route.”
She noted that the pilot can make it easier for landlords like herself who already try to keep their rents affordable.
“I understand the initial focus is landlords who are not yet accepting vouchers, or not for all of their units — that’s because there are people who qualify for vouchers, but not enough units available,” Quinn said.
As for de Campos Lopes, he is excited to continue his work as part of the team at C3, and to address multiple concerns through bridging and intersecting policies like the pilot.
“I think the house voucher program is a good idea,” he said. “It’s a good way for the city to build policies that are highly connected.”
In his spare time, de Campos Lopes also collaborates with the design and development of American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s climate performance scorecard for cities in the U.S. He also enjoys spending time in the mountains and hiking trails around Charlottesville.
“I’m super enthusiastic for this position here and I look forward to engaging effectively with the governments in the Charlottesville area as well as community members and stakeholders,” he said.