Low-income solar incentives in the US
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.
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.
On this page:
- Do these programs supply free solar panels?
- How is low-income defined?
- Low-income solar programs by state
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 Single Family Affordable Homes Program (SASH)
California’s 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 be eligible, you must own and live in your own home, have a household income that is 80% or below the area median income, and live in one of a list of low-income communities or a home that is defined as affordable housing.
It’s important to note that most systems installed by GRID Alternatives under the SASH program are not given to the homeowner. Instead, the homeowner benefits from free electricity provided by the panels, while the system itself is technically owned by a third party that is able to realize tax benefits from owning the solar system.
As part of the installation, homeowners will benefit from a power production guarantee, system monitoring, a 20-year warranty, and additional protections required by the California Public Utilities Commission. After installation, GRID asks the homeowner to make voluntary financial contributions of up to 50% of their electrical bill savings to support the cause of adding more low-income solar.
California Disadvantaged Communities Single Family Solar Homes Program (DAC-SASH)
The DAC-SASH program is exactly the same as the SASH program except that it includes further restrictions to ensure program funds go to the communities most in need.
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.
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.
Connecticut Green Bank Low Income Residential Solar Incentive Program
The Connecticut Green Bank, in conjunction with the private firm PosiGen Solar, leases solar panels to low and moderate-income homes via its Low Income Residential Solar Incentive Program, providing access to rooftop solar power without any upfront costs.
The program works by the state paying an incentive to PosiGen for power produced, allowing the firm to provide lower cost lease terms. To be eligible, applicants must have a household income that is 100% or below the area median income.
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.
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 Affordable Solar Program
The New York Affordable Solar program incentivizes installers to target lower-income households when selling and leasing solar panels, creating cost savings which can be passed onto the consumer.
To be eligible, applicants must have a household income 80% or below the area median income.
To apply: Further information can be found via the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or by contacting an approved vendor.
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.
Author: Ben Zientara | Solar Policy Analyst and Researcher
Ben is a writer, researcher, and data analysis expert who has worked for clients in the sustainability, public administration, and clean energy sectors.