Updated 3 weeks ago

2024 Low-Income Solar Incentive Programs Guide

Written by Jamie Smith , Edited by Catherine Lane

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Saving money on utility bills is one of the main advantages of adding solar panels to your home, but the high upfront cost of solar tends to be a barrier for many American families. 

Though there are solar financing options to help with upfront costs, solar is still out of reach for low-income homeowners, who could benefit the most from solar savings. According to our 2024 Solar Industry Survey, only 6% of respondents said their customer’s average annual income was under $50,000.

Some states have created programs to bring the benefits of renewable energy to low-income households at very low costs. Here’s a guide to the current low-income solar programs offered to help families gain access to clean energy in the U.S., including recent developments made by the Biden-Harris Administration.

Can you get free solar panels from the government through low-income solar programs?

Low-income solar programs don’t typically provide completely free solar panels, but they can greatly reduce installation costs. 

Most of the programs provide rebates or grants to cover the majority of rooftop solar installation costs for qualified applicants, but there may still be some costs or payments required. 

Exactly how much a low-income solar installation costs will vary with the program you qualify for, the amount of solar panels you install, and the solar company you choose.

How is “low income” defined? Most of the low-income solar programs offered in the U.S. are designed to serve families at the federally-defined threshold of “low income”. According to the U.S.  Department of Health and Human Services, low-income is generally considered households that earn at or below 80% of the area’s median income (AMI). Low-income solar programs seek to help families that struggle to keep up with their home’s energy costs.

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Low-income solar programs offered in 2024

There are a number of state, non-profit, and utility-level low-income solar programs to help qualifying homeowners get home solar panels. Although there are no federally-run low-income solar programs, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $7 billion in Solar for All funding that will create and expand low-income solar access. 

Low-income solar programs may provide assistance with upfront costs through rebates, grants, or discounts. Others provide performance-based incentives to earn higher electricity bill savings each month. Some low-income assistance programs to reduce or eliminate solar financing costs are also available.

Here are a few of the low-income solar programs for single-family homes available in 2024. 

California Disadvantaged Communities Single Family Solar Homes Program (DAC-SASH)

California’s DAC-SASH program subsidizes the installation of solar panels for low-income single-family homes living in disadvantaged communities. The program was administered by the non-profit GRID Alternatives and offers millions in funding for incentives to help homeowners in these communities go solar every year. 

To qualify for this program, homeowners must live in one of the top 25% of most disadvantaged communities statewide, identified by the CalEnviroScreen, and also meet the income requirements outlined in the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program.

To apply: You can find further information via GRID Alternatives. The DAC-SASH program will expire at the end of 2030.

Illinois Solar for All program (ILSFA)

The Illinois Solar for All program (ILSFA) incentivizes approved installers to target low-income households. It was one of the awardees of a grant from the Biden Administration's Solar for All initiative.

ILSFA offers several participation options. Single-family homeowners and owners of multifamily residential buildings can install rooftop solar. Those who can’t install solar, like renters or nonprofit organizations, can subscribe to a community solar project through ILSFA. Also, properties occupied by nonprofit or public facilities can get a solar project installed. 

Participants see no upfront solar costs, and the ongoing costs and fees will not exceed 50% of the value of the energy generated from the solar project, among other consumer protections. 

Eligible applicants must have a household income of 80% or below the area median income or live within a designated Environmental Justice Community.

To apply: Further information can be found on the ILSFA official website, or contact an approved vendor.  

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Minnesota Xcel Energy Solar*Rewards Program

Xcel Energy, a utility company that services areas across eight states, offers low-income solar incentive programs specifically for its Minnesotan customers. 

Xcel Energy’s Solar*Rewards Minnesota program involves a performance-based and upfront payment rebate for income-qualified residential, multi-family, and non-profit buildings. 

Qualified low-income residential customers receive an additional $0.03 per kWh of energy their solar system produces. As an up-front payment, customers get $2.75 per watt of solar installed. 

If an income-eligible Xcel customer in Minnesota installs a 6 kilowatt (kW) solar system, they get an upfront payment of $16,500!

Colorado Rooftop Low Income Program

The Colorado Energy Office (CEO) subsidizes the installation of solar panels for low-income single-family homes via the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).

To be eligible, applicants must own and live in their own home and have a household income that is 200% or less of the federal poverty level. The installation of solar must also be shown to create a net benefit above cost as assessed by the CEO.

To apply: You can find further information via the Colorado Energy Office or a local weatherization agency.

Colorado Xcel Energy Solar*Rewards Program

For Colorado, customers who are income qualified or are located in a Disproportionately Impacted Community are open to apply and can receive $1.00 per watt of solar installed, up to 7 kW. A 6 kW solar system for a low-income Xcel Energy customer in Colorado can earn them an upfront payment of $6,000!

To apply: You can find further information on Xcel Energy’s website, where you must select your state to find the correct eligibility and application information. 

Hawaii Green Energy Market Securitization On-Bill Repayment Program (GEM)

Hawaii’s GEM program is unique in that though it does not directly target low-income households, it is set up in a way to benefits them. 

The program offers fixed-rate loans for solar panels and energy efficiency projects, which are then paid back in monthly installments as part of the household’s electricity bill. Rather than using common measures of credit, eligibility is based upon an on-time payment of electric bills over the past 12 months. 

Both homeowners and renters are eligible, and the loan obligation is attached to the household electric meter, not the residents, making it easily transferable. The minimum loan size for residential solar projects is $5,000 and they must result in a 10% utility bill savings, including the added loan repayment fee.

To apply: Further information can be found via the Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority.

Massachusetts Solar Renewable Target Program (SMART)

The Massachusetts SMART program incentivizes the installation of solar panels by paying owners an incentive rate for each kWh of electricity produced, with a small bonus incentive paid for low-income property owners.

To apply: Further information can be found via the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources or by contacting local solar installation companies.

Oregon Solar Within Reach and Solar + Storage Rebate Programs

Oregon residents served by Portland General Electric (PGE) or Pacific Power have two amazing solar programs. Those outside of the Portland metro area can still claim incentives through one of the programs.

The first program is the EnergyTrust Solar Within Reach program, which is funded by the ratepayers of PGE and Pacific Power. The program provides $1.10 per watt of solar installed to PGE customers, and $1 per watt for Pacific Power customers, up to a system size of six kilowatts. The income eligibility limits are quite broad, with a family of four qualifying with an income under $112,860.

The second program, open to all homeowners, is Oregon’s Solar + Storage rebate program. Despite the name, a homeowner does not have to install battery storage with a home solar system to qualify. Low-to-moderate income homeowners can save $1.80 per watt of installed capacity on a solar installation, up to a maximum of $5,000 (about a 2.78 kW system). 

Importantly, the above programs can be stacked together, and the final cost after incentives is also eligible for the federal solar tax credit. Together, the state programs and federal incentives can eliminate 65% or more of the average family’s total expense to go solar. It’s complicated, but it just may be worth it to figure out.

New York Solar for All Program

The New York Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers a program called New York Solar For All. 

Central Hudson, National Grid (in select counties), NYSEG, and Orange & Rockland customers can apply to participate in this utility bill assistance program. Eligible participants can receive a subscription to their local community solar program at no cost, saving them between $5 and $15 per month on their electric bills. 

There’s no need for a solar installation, you can sign up and begin saving instantly after you are approved. NYSERDA is also one of the awardees of additional funding from the Biden Administration, so be on the lookout for possible developments in the near future!

To apply: Check if you qualify and find additional information via NYSERDA.

Washington, D.C. Solar For All Program

The Department of Energy & Environment created its own version of a Solar For All program for low—to moderate-income residents of Washington, D.C.

DC Solar For All aims to bring the benefits of solar power to 100,000 income-eligible households and renters. The DOEE partnered with different organizations across the district to install solar panels on single-family homes and develop community solar projects for those who can’t install them—at no cost to the eligible participants. 

Under the program, homeowners do not own the solar panels, but are leasing them at no cost, receiving 100% of the clean energy produced by the system. The goal is to have homeowners and renters see at least 50% savings on their electricity bill over 15 years.

To apply: Further information can be found via the DC Department of Energy and Environment.

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The Biden-Harris Administration announces funding for “Solar for All” program

On Earth Day 2024, the Biden-Harris administration celebrated in the best way imaginable. The Administration announced that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allotted $7 billion in funding for low-income solar programs across the country.

The $7 billion is to be distributed among 60 chosen awardees under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, intended to create new or expand their existing low-income solar programs. 

This is estimated to bring access to solar energy to 900,000 households in low-income and disadvantaged communities. As these Solar for All programs are finalized, expect to see new low-income solar programs come online. The full list of awardees can be found on the EPA website.

“The Solar for All program – legislation that I successfully introduced – will not only combat the existential threat of climate change by making solar energy available to working-class families, it will also substantially lower the electric bills of Americans and create thousands of good-paying jobs,” said U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in a press release. “This is a win for the environment and a win for the economy.”

Increased funding for low-income solar policy and programs isn’t the only way the Biden Administration has fought for these programs. The Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022, also established incentives for solar companies to expand into low-income solar markets.

Why are low-income solar programs important?

Solar power is beneficial to anyone who utilizes it. The main problem is that solar is a big investment. 

The reality is that an entire demographic of households does not have the funds to purchase solar and might not qualify for or be able to afford traditional financing. The expansion of solar across America will have to involve making it more accessible to these low-income communities and households. 

Although incentives are available to all homeowners, sometimes it’s just not enough. For example, the federal tax credit can save you thousands of dollars on your taxes, but if your taxable income is low, you won’t see the full cost savings of the solar tax credit until years down the line. 

This is why it’s important to create programs that specifically help low-income homeowners get solar arrays on their roofs. The investment in low-income solar programs through the Biden Administration’s Solar for All funding is a huge step toward expanding programs and increasing access to solar energy. 

Low-income solar benefits everyone by encouraging a robust workforce, providing energy bill savings to those who need them most, and reducing carbon emissions.

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Written by Jamie Smith Content Specialist

Jamie is a Content Writer and researcher at SolarReviews. A recent graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia, Jamie earned her B.S. in communications with a concentration in journalism, mass media, and public relations. Jamie has previously worked at a marketing company where she had the opportunity to highlight and promote small business owners through long-form stories and interviews. With a deep-rooted passion for creativity, Jamie stri...

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