Utility Xcel Energy has selected Pivot energy to to develop a 41 MW community solar portfolio in Colorado, with every MW in the portfolio exclusively serving income-qualified households beneath an established income threshold.
The deal represents one of the largest income-qualified portfolios in the United States, and will provide access to affordable, clean energy to thousands of households throughout the state. In order to find customers to fill the portfolio’s capacity, Pivot shares that it will be partnering with local community organization, and will be using SunCentral’s software platform to manage active subscribers.
The two companies have not yet shard how many individual installations will make up the 41 MW portfolio, nor where those projects will be located.
“Pivot Energy is thrilled to deploy this portfolio, which will deliver profound benefits — both environmental and economic — to thousands of income-qualified households,” said Tom Hunt, CEO of Pivot Energy. “As the renewable energy industry strives to advance both energy equity and the clean energy transition, I hope to see other states and utilities emulate the leadership and constructive collaboration of Xcel Energy and the state of Colorado to facilitate more equitable access to clean energy.”
Community solar is recognized as an effective method for expanding access to clean energy and utility bill savings to low- and middle-income (LMI) electrical customers, helping to bridge the means gap that has plagued the solar industry, since ownership and leases are often financially out of the question for LMI individuals and families. These same households have historically been left out of the clean energy transition and that face many of the most adverse climate impacts.
According to Energy Outreach Colorado, one-in-four Colorado households struggle with a high energy burden, which leads to such households spending a disproportionate amount of their income on energy bills, when compared to higher-income households, with the average burden being three times worse. Households that meet or are below the 80% area median income threshold can see energy bills take up to 20% of their monthly income.
The income-verification aspect of the projects included in this portfolio is a bit of a tricky subject. Vote Solar’s Access & Equity Advisory Committee, which includes energy leaders from Vote Solar and a rotating list of partner organizations, including nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives, the NAACP, and Nexamp, has publicly shared its view that 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.
The group has instead proposed automatic qualification in community solar programs as a solution. 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.
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