$10 Million prize to accelerate community solar in underrepresented communities


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP) launched several initiatives to support the deployment of equitable community solar projects and recognize projects that exemplify best practices in community solar.

The Community Power Accelerator and its $10 million prize will leverage $5 billion in private-sector financing commitments to help community-based organizations and other project developers access financing and build community solar projects, particularly in disadvantaged and underrepresented communities.

Community solar is a way for people to benefit from solar energy without having to put solar on their own rooftop. It serves those who cannot afford their own solar installation as well renters, who don’t own their rooftop. It also serves those whose home many not be oriented for solar or have other unsuitable conditions. Residential rooftop solar has historically been adopted by higher-income customers, although that trend has been changing, community solar is a way for anyone—regardless of income or home ownership—to benefit from solar.  

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is a sweeping piece of climate legislation, but it may have its greatest impact on overburdened communities. For example, the IRA includes the Justice40 Initiative, which supports programs that improve clean transit and workforce development, while also investing in programs that make clean energy more affordable and accessible and strengthen resilience to climate change.

NCSP will play a vital role in supporting the Justice40 Initiative to ensure that every community benefits from the clean energy transition and in achieving the President’s goals of a 100% electric grid by 2035 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“The National Community Solar Partnership provides yet another exciting opportunity to harness the power of the sun to power our communities—helping make our climate goals a reality while lowering energy costs and reducing local air pollution,” said Jennifer M. Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy. “The President’s historic clean energy laws are supercharging access to renewable energy, and DOE is seizing the moment by accelerating community solar deployment to ensure affordable, clean energy is available whenever and wherever to everyone.”

Community Power Accelerator

The Biden Administration set a goal this year to sign up 5 million community solar households, achieving $1 billion in bill savings by 2025. Currently the community solar model only represents about 8% of the total distributed solar capacity in the nation. This target would entail a jump from 3 GW installed capacity to 20 GW by the target year. The IRA established tax credits for solar energy projects, and it adds 20% bonus credit for solar power projects that sell their electricity to low-income households. The DOE estimates that this tax credit could support up to 18 GW of additional community solar projects over the next 10 years, enough to power over 2.5 million homes.

The critical challenge is ensuring that all types of organizations and communities have access to the funds to develop community solar and that the projects deployed deliver “meaningful benefits” to communities and subscribers, like electricity bill savings, community ownership and wealth-building, resilience, equitable workforce development, and low- to moderate-income household access.

The Community Power Accelerator is intended to bring together investors, philanthropic organizations, developers, community-based organizations, and technical experts to get more equitable community solar projects financed and deployed. The Accelerator will provide technical assistance to developers along with a Learning Lab to build a pipeline of verified, credit-ready projects that will connect with investors seeking to fund community solar in disadvantaged communities. Financial institutions and philanthropic organizations participating in the Accelerator have committed $5 billion in private sector financing for projects that are credit-ready.

The Accelerator includes the following programs:

  • The Community Power Accelerator Prize is a new $10 million competition that will provide pre-development funds to organizations to build the expertise, experience, and capacity required to develop community solar projects at scale.
  • An online platform, developed by DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, that will enable community-based organizations, intermediaries, and other mission-aligned project developers to connect with investors and philanthropic organizations seeking to fund a more diverse and community-based pipeline of community solar projects.
  • A Learning Lab and technical assistance program will prepare community-based organizations, small or new solar developers, and others to develop, finance, and build community solar projects that are ready for financing.

Sunny award winners

During the NCSP Annual Summit, DOE announced the winners of the Sunny Awards for Equitable Community Solar, an awards program that recognizes best practices in community solar projects and programs that increase equitable access.

Five teams were selected for Grand Prize awards. Across the board, these five winners will help households achieve a projected combined total savings of $4.3 million on their energy bills. The projects provide clean energy access for 7,300 low- to moderate-income households and demonstrate best practices in increasing resilience, expanding community ownership, building a more equitable workforce, and leading community engagement.

  • Shungnak-Kobuk Community Solar Battery IPP (Shungnak, Alaska): This solar and battery project led by the Shungnak and Kobuk tribes in the Northwest Arctic Borough region in Alaska aims to stabilize the cost of electricity and allow the communities to take charge of their energy future.
  • Faribault Community Solar (Faribault, Minn.): The Faribault Community Solar project is a cooperatively-owned community solar array serving mostly low-to-moderate income residents in southern Minnesota.
  • Community Power: Jobs and Savings for LMI Households (Brooklyn, N.Y.): Community Power delivers energy savings to 500 households, provided workforce training, and offered paid jobs to public housing residents.
  • District of Columbia’s Solar for All (Washington, DC): Solar for All is a program designed to reduce electricity bills for households in Washington, DC, through single-family and community solar projects.
  • JOE-4-SUN Ashland (Ashland, Mass.): JOE-4-SUN Ashland is a 6 MW community solar project that saves low-to-moderate income households over $400 per year on electricity costs and brings the benefits of clean, renewable energy to a superfund site.

Connecting the dots

With the NCSA program bringing community solar to more people and more communities, DOE wants to share that experience by highlighting the benefits of solar energy. The new Connect the Dots campaign will provide a resource hub so that the public can learn about how solar will positively impact the nation’s future, bringing focus to the connections between solar energy investments and their enduring, long-term benefits.

Read “Solar is front and center in the fight for energy justice“.

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