Low-income solar incentives in the U.S.
Saving money on utility bills is one of the main benefits of adding solar panels to your home, but the initial cost of going solar is still a barrier for many American families. Solar loans and other financing options can make it easier for middle-income earners to go solar, but low-income homeowners, who could benefit the most from saving money using solar energy, are still mostly shut out.
Unfortunately, there is no federal low-income solar program, but some states have created programs to bring the benefits of renewable energy to low-income households and communities at a very low cost to the homeowner.
Here’s a guide to low-income solar programs in the United States, who can qualify, and how to apply.
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Do these programs supply free solar panels for low income families?
As a general rule, the programs below are not designed to provide 100% free solar panels, but all of them either reduce or eliminate upfront costs and still result in savings for the homeowner.
In most cases, rebates and grants can cover much of the cost of rooftop solar installations for qualified applicants, but there is still some cost or ongoing payments required of the homeowner.
Others, like Hawaii’s on-bill repayment program, offer low-interest loans that are paid back through the homeowner’s regular electric bill, which allows people to purchase a solar installation for their home and save money at the same time.
How is low-income defined?
Most of the below programs are designed to serve families with incomes at the federally-defined threshold of “low-income,” which means at or below 80% of area median income (AMI).
These are the folks for whom energy costs can be a major burden, so it makes sense to target them for low-cost solar programs.
Current low-income solar programs for single-family homes
California Disadvantaged Communities Single Family Solar Homes Program (DAC-SASH)
The DAC-SASH program subsidizes the installation of solar panels for low-income single-family homes to the tune of $3,000 per installed kW, up to a maximum of 5.0 kW.
The program is administered by the non-profit GRID Alternatives, which also helps fund the remaining unsubsidized cost of solar panels and provides solar industry job training.
To qualify, homeowners must live in one of the top 25 percent most disadvantaged communities as identified by the CalEnviroScreen and meet the requirements of the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program.
These restrictions ensure program funds go to the communities most in need.
To apply: You can find further information via GRID Alternatives. The DAC-SASH program will expire at the end of 2030.
California also offers the MASH program, which is designed to help owners of multifamily housing units install solar panels for the benefit of their residents.
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.
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 benefit 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 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.
Illinois Solar For All Program
The Illinois Solar For All Program incentivizes installers to target lower-income households when selling and leasing solar panels, creating cost savings which then can be passed onto the consumer.
As part of the program, participants are guaranteed no upfront costs and no ongoing costs or fees that exceed 50% of the value of the energy produced, among other consumer protections. To be eligible, applicants must have a household income 80% or below the area median income or live within a designated environmental justice community.
To apply: Further information can be found via the Illinois Power Agency or by contacting an approved vendor.
Massachusetts Solar Renewable Target Program (SMART)
The 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.
Learn more: How the Massachusetts SMART Solar program works
Massachusetts Solar Loan Support Program
The Massachusetts Solar Loan Support program provides three types of incentives to support low and moderate-income households in getting affordable loans to install solar panels.
The incentives include:
- Reducing loan principal by up to 30%
- Reducing loan interest rates by up to 1.5%
- Providing a loan loss guarantee to lenders for residents with bad credit
Minnesota Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Program
As part of its Solar Rewards Program, public utility Xcel Energy offers added incentives for income-qualified customers.
These include subsidizing the cost of solar panels up to $2,000 per installed kW and providing an incentive of $0.07 per kWh produced by the solar system. To be eligible, applicants must have a household income either 50% or below the state median income, or 200% or below the federal poverty line.
To apply: Further information can be found via Xcel Energy.
New York Solar For All Program
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers a program called Solar For All which can help income-eligible residents qualify for solar savings with no upfront cost. Subject to income eligibility requirements, the Solar for All program helps low-incomes residents benefit from community solar farms and offers monetary bill credits of between $5 and $15 a month.
That’s not a ton of money, and the program is no longer available to National Grid customers, but if you’re a low-income customer of Central Hudson, NYSEG (Chenango, Otsego, Sullivan, and Delaware counties only), or Orange & Rockland utilities, you can sign up today.
Oregon Solar Within Reach and Solar + Storage Rebate Programs
Residents of the state of Oregon served by either Portland General Electric (PGE) or Pacific Power have two amazing solar programs they can take advantage of, and 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, eligible to all Oregon homeowners, is the 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). Families of four making under $100,210 per year qualify for this incentive.
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 incentive 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.
Washington D.C. Solar For All Program
The DC Solar For All Program pays for the installation of solar panels on single-family households through several programs, including Solar Works DC - which also includes instruction for job trainees in solar installation, as well as partnerships.
To be eligible, applicants must have a household income that is 80% or below the area median income. 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.
To apply: Further information can be found via the DC Department of Energy and Environment.