One criticism that has been leveled at the rooftop solar industry is that its benefits are mostly for the affluent. And while move to third-party solar and the rise of alternative financing mechanisms have brought solar to more mid- and low-income homeowners, there are still many who have not been able to take advantage of the benefits of solar, including many who rent instead of owning their homes.
Over the past few years a number of programs have been launched across the nation to address these issues. And while California the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program is launching to incentivize 300 MW solar on the roofs of low-income apartment buildings over the next decade, the majority of programs seen by pv magazine are based on off-site community solar.
Today the municipal utility in Austin, Texas officially joined this movement by opening applications for a low-income community solar offering. Up to 200 customers in Austin Energy’s Customer Assistance Program (CAP) can now receive electricity from the 2.5 MW La Loma Community Solar Project in East Austin. Austin Energy estimates that half of the electricity produced by the La Loma plant will go to low-income residents, and that under the program they will pay slightly less than their current rate.
37,000 of Austin Energy’s customers are currently in the CAP, and applications will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis.
And while there are currently community solar installations in 26 states, it is perhaps not surprising that Austin Energy is in the lead regarding bringing solar to low-income residents. Along with San Antonio’s municipal utility, Austin Energy launched the utility-scale solar market in Texas by procuring hundreds of megawatts of solar at very low prices, and recently announced that under its current schedule it will be sourcing 51% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020.