Grid Alternatives, Vote Solar and the Center for Social Justice discussed their recently released Low-Income Solar Policy Guide 2017 at the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association’s (COSEIA’s) Solar Power Colorado 2017 Conference. The guide aims to improve the ability for lower-income people to access to the benefits of solar power. The guide’s recommendations have already helped increase access in some communities like Denver and Washington, DC.
“Low-income families pay a disproportionately higher percentage of their income to their energy bills, and are more susceptible to health problems because they are more likely to live close to fossil-fuel generating facilities, as well as effected more by climate change” Melanie Santiago-Mosier of Vote Solar said at the conference. “Low-income solar offers employment opportunities, healthier and more empowered communities.”
Those with low-income face challenges that make it harder to qualify for financing or buy solar including low credit scores and insufficient property maintenance. As such, low-income homeowners are often unable to participate in federal and state incentive programs to install rooftop solar. Likewise, low-income renters are often at the mercy of local government policies, utility companies and their landlord’s interest in installing solar.
Already the guide’s principles have been put in place in low-income solar programs in Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington DC, panelists said. For instance, it helped Grid Alternatives receive a $1.2 million grant from the Colorado Energy Office to develop and implement community solar partnerships with utilities to create solar options for low-income customers in rural areas of the state. In another Colorado case a landmark settlement with Xcel Energy and the state provided will provide low-income customers with access to 20 megawatts of solar currently in development over the next three years.
“By prioritizing equity in solar we can enable low-income families to invest their precious dollars in their own future rather than in ever rising and often volatile energy bills. We can create good career and educational opportunities that are localized for the greatest impacts. And we can invest in communities to build shared wealth,” the guide explained.
There are over 6 million affordable housing units in the US and 22 million homes owned by families at or below 80 percent of their area’s median income, according to US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Creating access to solar in low-income areas in the US is a huge market opportunity for developers and an opportunity for community enrichment.
The guide highlights how utilities, policy makers and solar developers can partner on community solar programs to broaden participation by low-income residents who can benefit from the lower costs of solar power. It also shows how essential it is that such projects include education programs to inform homeowners, renters and landlords in low-income communities about the availability of financing and incentives programs tailored to their needs.Tweet