Posted on Thursday December 8, 2016
Throughout its history, the solar industry has been subject to criticism that only the wealthy can afford to buy and install panels for their own use. That perception is changing rapidly. As utilities and municipalities embrace community solar programs, these programs are also recognized as a way to deliver solar energy to all income classes, including low-and moderate-income levels.
As we successfully shift to clean energy, it is vital that a solution fit the needs of ALL participants, including low and moderate income customers. Community solar is accessible to a broad spectrum of energy users because of its unique features.
Community solar delivers solar energy to more customers, with fewer restrictions for participation. Most subscription based programs do not require upfront participation fees, eliminating the need for large amounts of cash for their share of the solar energy. Since a roof is not needed to install solar panels, property ownership is also not required, vastly increasing the population of utility customers that can participate. Additionally, program participants do not need to have a tax liability (as the program developer often handles the federal Investment Tax Credit), thus non-profits can participate, opening doors for local housing authorities to manage subscriptions for their own clients. Residential, commercial, and industrial customers can subscribe to the same program, creating a diverse user profile, generating savings for all subscribers and equally benefitting LMI customers.
It is common for a low-income household to spend 15 – 20% of their household income on energy bills, creating a strain on the monthly budget. Since a community solar program is available to all members of the community, the financial savings of the program are especially valuable to those LMI households. The energy generated is locally sourced and locally consumed, like the popular ‘farm to table’ method of consuming locally grown food. This local generation and distribution is a benefit to the community, delivering renewable energy, income generation through job creation, and money savings back to the community.
Utilities and municipalities have an interest in making community energy programs accessible to low-income neighborhoods, making sure a program is equitable for all participants. Developers who want to partner in program development can help this effort by showing how they’ve addressed the LMI demographic in previous projects, and how they plan to reach these customers in future programs.
To keep this momentum going and to find innovation in the industry, the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative has launched Solar in your Community Challenge. This is a nationwide challenge encouraging groups to participate as teams in creating projects or programs that bring solar access to LMI households. Teams can consist of advocates or industry professionals and will be awarded cash prizes for successful projects or programs. Registration begins in January 2017 and the Challenge will kick-off in Spring 2017. Check out www.solarinyourcommunity.org for details.
If our goals are to transition to clean energy while remaining inclusive of all class types, the way to achieve this quickly is by providing more community solar programs. Customers require easy to understand program benefits, little to no program restrictions, and regular savings on their energy bills. Community solar provides these benefits and not just for the wealthy. Community solar makes solar accessible for all households and businesses, bringing us closer to our goals of living and working in a clean energy environment.
Join the campaign to bring community solar to every neighborhood in the nation. Gain access to the tools that will make your projects a success. Share the details of your developments for others to see and repeat your achievements. Contribute to your community by providing the choice of clean and affordable electricity to everyone.