Category Archives: Solar for Lower-Income Households

Energy Equity: Bringing Solar Power to Low-Income Communities

By Maria Gallucci, Yale Environment 360. Published at the
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

Isbel “Izzy” Palans lives in a small cabin nestled among mountain peaks and towering trees in the Colorado Rockies. Her home is often shaded and, during the long winters, buried under heaps of snow. Her monthly utility bills show credits for solar electricity production, but no solar panels are affixed to her roof. Instead, the power comes from a solar array some 60 miles away in a nearby valley. Last year, the panels nearly slashed her energy bill in half. “I’ve been thrilled,” said Palans, a 76-year-old retired waitress who relies partly on Social Security benefits to make ends meet.

Palans is a subscriber to a 145-kilowatt solar array project run by Holy Cross Energy, a rural
utility cooperative. Built with state funding, the program provides solar credits to more than 40
low-income households in western Colorado that otherwise wouldn’t have the financial or
technical means to access renewable energy. The venture is just one of a growing number of
so-called “community solar” projects across the United States focused on delivering renewable energy — and the cost-savings it can provide — to low-income households, from California to Minnesota to Massachusetts.
Continue reading here. 

Cooperative Energy Futures Photo: A 204-kilowatt community solar array being installed on the roof of the Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis. 

Maria Gallucci is a freelance science journalist and the 2017-18 Energy Journalism Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. She currently
covers clean energy development and environmental issues in the world of maritime cargo shipping. Maria was previously a reporter for
MashableInsideClimate NewsInternational Business Times, and Mexico City press, and an editor at Makeshift magazine.
 

The Low Income Energy Issues Forum publishes new report

By Tim Sylvia, PV Magazine

One of the most popular sentiments in growing the reach of the solar industry is getting limited and low-income customers
involved, usually through community or shared-living solar
programs. However, not all low-income customers are the same and no two community solar subscription models are the same. And, just like pistons in the engine driving the solar industry,
inconsistency and wiggle room can lead to trouble.

This was the issue studied by The Low Income Energy Issues
Forum in their newly-published report, Low Income Consumer Solar Working Group. The report
focuses on how varied and flexible community solar programs have the potential to improve utility services for these financially-limited customers. Read more here.

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READING

UMN researchers incorporate solar panels in low-income housing, Minnesota Daily

A new report focusing on making solar energy more accessible may help homeowners meet mortgage payments.

“Habitat for Humanity — they provide affordable housing to
people, but even after you have an affordable home, you still have home costs like insurance … and one of those [costs] is
energy too,” said Erica Bjelland, a program development
specialist at Rural Renewable Energy Alliance. RREAL is a
nonprofit that works to make solar energy accessible to people at all income levels. The University of Minnesota’s Chan Lab partnered with RREAL to develop ways to alleviate poverty using solar energy.

Rural Renewable Energy Alliance Website

Illustration by Abby Adamski

Nicole Steele: Solar power offers a cleaner, better energy future

Guest Columnist, The Virginian-Pilot

Dominion Energy recently announced a request for proposals for up to 500 megawatts of wind and solar under Virginia’s Grid Transformation & Security Act, and the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan — released by Gov. Ralph Northam on
Oct. 1 — calls for the addition of 3,000 megawatts of solar and wind in the state by the year 2022. It’s an exciting turning point, but as we move forward, we need to make sure Virginia’s transition to clean energy includes and benefits all of our communities. Equitable solar policies targeting low- and middle-income households will keep money in the local economy, allow communities to build wealth and create local jobs. Read more here.

Nicole Steele is the executive director of nonprofit GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic. GRID Mid-Atlantic, serving Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, is a leader in making clean, affordable solar power and solar jobs accessible to low-income communities and communities of color.

NEWS FROM OTHER STATES

Minnesota’s largest solar farm project moving ahead in far southwestern corner, Duluth News Tribune. A Minneapolis-based renewable energy development company continues to work with landowners in Rock County in far southwest Minnesota on what could be the state’s largest solar farm covering 1,600 acres. Geronimo Energy is proposing a 150- to 200-megawatt solar farm. The largest solar farm currently in operation in the state is 150 megawatts. 

Kansas’ Cloud County Community College adds 200-kW solar array to pro-renewables campus, Solar Power World. The installation of an on-campus solar site commences new solar energy classes of Cloud County Community College’s Solar Energy Technology program. The site will service the campus’s energy needs, and will be installed by students enrolled in the program. Historically focusing on wind energy, solar was a natural transition. 

Residential solar co Freedom Forever enters Colorado market, Renewables Now. According to Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), solar energy production is expected to surpass 1,800 MW in Colorado in five years.

Related:
 Clean Energy Experts: 100% Renewable Energy Could Come Before 2040, CBS Denver

MORE ENERGY TRANSITION NEWS

America’s Wind Farms Are Ready to Go It Alone, Bloomberg
For a quarter-century, the industry has been supported by federal tax credits that helped it attract $250 billion in investments and create 100,000 jobs, according to the American Wind Energy Association. That support ends next year, but analysts and executives say the credits have done what they were supposed to do: make the industry competitive. AWEA Public Domain Photo.

Canadian company reboots northern Minnesota solar panel factory

By Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News

Ontario-based Heliene, Inc. has begun operations in a 25,000-square-foot factory in Mountain Iron, a city of nearly 3,000 people on Minnesota’s Iron Range, and it plans to hire 130 employees by September . . . Minnesota’s growing community solar garden program, the largest in the country, has been a boon for the company, and Illinois may represent the next big market for Heliene.  Read more here.

Thinkstock Photo

NEBRASKA IN THE NEWS

WEC Energy bets on solar, wind and natural gas. So, what about coal?, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin Public Service, the subsidiary of WEC Energy Group that operates in northeastern Wisconsin, and Madison Gas and Electric plan to invest a total of $390 million to buy 300 megawatts of generating capacity — enough electricity for more than 70,000 residential customers — in two solar power projects . . . WEC also plans to invest $424 million in wind projects in Illinois and Nebraska that will sell power to other companies.

MORE NEWS & COMMENTARY FROM OTHER STATES

FEATURED RESOURCE: LOW-INCOME SOLAR POLICY GUIDE

The Low-Income Solar Policy Guide was originally developed and launched in 2016 by nonprofits GRID AlternativesVote Solar, and the Center for Social Inclusion, to help drive the proposal and adoption of new low-income solar policies and programs, both as stand-alone efforts and as part of broader renewable energy programs. GRID Alternatives and Vote Solar are current contributing partners to the Guide. It is meant to be a tool for policymakers, community leaders and others who are working on solar access at the federal, state and local level.
Resources Include:
Financing
Federal And State Tax Credits
Grants And Technical Assistance

NEW EV ANALYSIS

Electric vs. Diesel vs. Natural Gas: Which Bus is Best for the Climate?, by Jimmy O’Dea, Vehicles Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists

GLOBAL NEWS

Solar Is Saving Low-Income Households Money in Colorado. It Could Be a National Model.

By Dan Gearing, Inside Climate News

Colorado is emerging as a national model for how to expand renewable energy to low-income homes. The state has been pursuing low-income solar programs since 2015, and it’s on track to have 20 megawatts installed by the end of 2019 as those programs ramp up. The total is the combination of several programs that, working with utilities and charitable organizations, provide rooftop installations and community solar arrays to help customers save money. One key to Colorado’s success is that much of the rooftop solar work is being run by county and regional weatherization offices that already provide insulation and other energy efficiency services. Read more here.

Photo by GRID Alternatives

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READING

This Untapped Market Could Add 320 Gigawatts Of New U.S. Residential Solar Energy

By Silvio Marcacci, Communications Director at Energy Innovation
Published by Forbes

Residential rooftop solar projects in the U.S. have historically been installed on wealthier, single-family households, meaning companies typically target higher-income households with their marketing efforts. Residential solar installations continue to grow across the country, but this focus is overlooking a massive growth opportunity: Low-to-moderate income (LMI) households.

A new first-of-its-kind report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) finds nearly half of all U.S. residential rooftop solar technical potential is on LMI households, and LMI solar capacity could total 320 gigawatts (GW) of potential solar installations across America.
Read more here.

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

MORE RENEWABLE ENERGY NEWS

  • How to Buy a Wind Farm: One family office did it. Now you can too, Bloomberg
    Operating wind and solar farms typically benefit from long-term contracts with investment-grade utilities. They tend to perform well, so there’s a high probability of steady, decades long revenue. It’s the type of investment that’s now attracting institutional investors such as pension funds and insurers.
  • Amherst, Hampshire, Smith join college solar energy collaborative, Massachusetts Live
    AMHERST – Five New England liberal arts colleges have joined together to create a solar power facility that will offset 46,000 megawatt-hours of their collective electrical use. The partnership represents the first collaborative purchase of New England-generated solar electricity by higher-education institutions, according to a press release.
  • Tech firms like Google, Amazon push power companies toward solar and wind, a blow to coal, USA Today. Since 2008, renewable energy has gone from 9% to 18% of the U.S. energy mix, according to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. A big part of that shift stems from tech companies’ rapid buildout of cloud storage centers and a move to burnish their public image by vowing they’ll run these centers on sources like wind and solar. Rather than lose these deep-pocketed customers, the nation’s power companies are changing policies and crafting deals that meet increased demands for renewable energy, in some cases shifting away from traditional electricity supplies like coal and natural gas. Even in coal mining states like West Virginia . . . Today, corporate America is happy to throw its weight around, said Bryn Baker, the World Wildlife Fund’s deputy director of renewable energy. “Companies are coming in and saying, ‘If you want us to be here, you have to give us access to clean energy.’”

NEWS FROM ILLINOIS

  • Getting solar power in Illinois beyond FEJA, PV Magazine
    Illinois’s solar market under the Future Energy Jobs Act is just getting started, but a business group is calling for the next governor and state legislature to provide less restriction and more action in community and distributed solar programs.
  • Solar farms set to sprout across Illinois, Chicago Tribune
    Drawn by new state requirements and incentives, renewable energy developers are staking out turf on the rural fringes of the Chicago area and beyond, looking to build dozens of solar farms to feed the electric grids of Commonwealth Edison and other utilities. Illinois plans to add 2,800 megawatts of new solar energy over the next few years.

New White Paper: Owning the Benefits of Solar+Storage – Plus More News

By Lew Milford and Robert Sanders, Clean Energy Group

Summary
Current clean energy financing models do not sufficiently serve low-income communities. As a result, solar+storage projects are vastly underrepresented in affordable housing and community facilities, meaning that low-income communities are unable to enjoy the benefits of clean, affordable and resilient power.

This paper describes emerging finance models to address the energy equity challenge and to level the financing playing field. The paper explores additional ownership and financing options for solar+storage projects and low-income communities beyond direct ownership and conventional leasing models. It makes a simple point: there are ownership and financing strategies that can provide many of the economic and other benefits of direct ownership, while overcoming some of the risks and barriers that direct ownership may entail for many project developers. Learn more here.

Upcoming Webinar: New Financing Options for Solar+Storage in Low-Income Communities  

MORE SOLAR+STORAGE NEWS

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READING

3 CESA Webinars to Focus on Using Energy Assistance Program Funds for Low-Income Solar as a Longterm Solution

The following Clean Energy States Alliance webinars are a part of the organization’s Sustainable Solar Education Project , which aims to help state and local governments support the sustainable growth of the distributed solar market by ensuring that solar PV remains consumer friendly, and benefits low- and moderate-income households:

  • Using Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) Funds for Low-Income Solar, January 11
    As solar costs have declined, interest in using WAP funds for low-income solar deployment has increased. A state seeking to integrate solar into WAP must obtain approval from the U.S. Department of Energy to include the technology in its program. This approval process includes demonstrating the effectiveness of solar in generating savings.
  • Using Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Funds for Low-Income Solar, January 16
    LIHEAP serves as an emergency bill assistance service, but state LIHEAP administrators have flexibility to use some program funds to reduce long-term dependence on energy assistance. Some argue that these LIHEAP funds should be used for low-income solar.
  • Follow-Up Discussion: Using Federal Low-Income Energy Assistance Programs for Solar, January 25. This webinar is open to state and municipal officials only.
    The interactive webinar discussion is a follow-up to the two earlier webinars. Guest speakers from both webinars will participate in this follow-up discussion. Participants will be invited to respond to the earlier webinars, share their ideas and experiences, and ask questions.

Please see our calendar for additional information and registration links.

Nebraska Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Nebraska Low Income Weatherization Assistance Program

New Guide Offers Pathways To Bring Solar To More Multifamily Residents

By Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry Magazine

IREC has released a new guide developed for local governments, housing providers, utilities and other interested stakeholders to better understand the various pathways to solar for multifamily housing, based on the experience in Seattle, Wash. According to the group, the guide will help states and municipalities as they develop the tools needed to make this next step toward a cleaner and more equitable energy future. Read more here.

The guide, titled “Access for All: Pathways to Expand Solar Options to Renters and Multifamily Households in the City of Seattle,” is available for download here.

Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) Website

ALSO OF POTENTIAL INTEREST

State’s Low-Income Community Solar Demo Serves As A National Model

By Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry Magazine

The Colorado Energy Office (CEO) and nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives Colorado have announced the completion of a two‐year partnership focused on demonstrating the benefits of community solar for low‐income communities across the state. In 2015, CEO granted GRID $1.2 million to work with rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities to develop accessible, affordable community solar models that provide meaningful bill savings to subscribed customers and reduce household energy burden.

In Colorado, approximately 30% of households – many located in rural areas – are considered energy burdened, meaning they pay more than 4% of their income on utility bills. Of that 30% in Colorado, 11% are considered energy impoverished, paying more than 10% of their income on utility bills. Continue reading.

Photo Credit: GRID Alternatives