Two ways to improve low-income community solar programs


Low- and moderate-income (LMI) families are among those most likely to benefit from the savings of community solar programs. However, as advocacy group Vote Solar points out, state-run program implementation for LMI customers can be uneven and more complicated than necessary.

To help remove barriers for LMI customers, Vote Solar’s Access & Equity Advisory Committee (AEAC) has released a policy brief outlining two key initiatives for more successful solar expansion programs: 1) automatic qualification in community solar programs, and 2) grant support for more robust community engagement.

The AEAC includes energy leaders from Vote Solar and a rotating list of partner organizations, including nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives, the NAACP, and Nexamp.

Automatic qualification means that eligible LMI households would automatically be included in community solar programs through qualification for another government program, such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The AEAC said it found that one of the biggest barriers to implementing LMI community solar programs is a cumbersome, lengthy, and often humiliating income-verification process in which both the state and the solar vendor are involved. The committee said streamlining this process is critical to enrolling more families in community solar programs.

In Massachusetts, for example, utility National Grid recently proposed a new initiative to circumvent credit checks and expand community solar access for its LMI customers.

The AEAC also said localized community engagement is required to build trust and address the unique needs of the community. Currently, under most state-run programs, if a vendor receives money from the state to deploy solar for LMI communities, that money is for the solar projects only and doesn’t cover the cost of engaging with customers.

The AEAC said state and federal funding programs should include specific allocations for community outreach and education about LMI solar programs and approved vendors, allowing vendors to hire dedicated community outreach staff, engage with community organizations to create a customer acquisition pipeline, and market their product effectively.

Olivia Nedd, Vote Solar’s policy director of the access and equity program, called on policymakers and the solar industry to “think critically about solutions like these to ensure low-wealth communities do not get left behind in the clean energy transition.”

The full policy brief is available here.

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