Southern utilities have done little to bring the proven economic advantages of solar power to lower income families and communities that could most use the benefits of this cost-saving energy.
A report released today outlines how the utilities can implement simple options going forward to expand solar power to struggling communities, instead of erecting barriers to solar adoption. SELC, the Partnership for Southern Equity, and the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development worked together in researching and developing this best-practices guide for utilities to bring solar power to low- and moderate-income families. Another dozen community groups from across the region signed on and collaborated to support “Solar For All,” the guide being distributed today.
For some involved in creating the guide, the push is personal.
“When I was growing up, my family had to choose between paying the light bill and buying groceries,” said Nathaniel Smith, founder of the Partnership for Southern Equity, one of the report’s authors.
Smith, who works to bring renewable energy to historically underserved communities, says utility policies often block struggling families from turning to solar for relief from high energy costs.
“Solar is a prime example of how communities of color could benefit greatly, but there are barriers that have been in the way,” he said.
The best-practices guide shows how utilities and third-party installers can provide solar access to rental homes or apartment buildings, and provide payment options that still result in significant savings.
The guide explores how lower income communities can benefit from community solar projects where customers can tap into a shared solar array; low-cost financing or rental options that provide savings without upfront costs; and meaningful power-bill credits when solar systems create extra energy for the utilities.
Plus, Smith said, a boost in solar installations will provide jobs in communities struggling with unemployment.
While utilities have not provided avenues for lower income families to take advantage of the sun’s power, some private companies have proven it will work.
PosiGen in Louisiana allows low-income homeowners to lease solar panels with no credit check and no upfront costs, and guaranteed energy savings.
The Evergreen Place, near Louisa, Va., is a four-unit housing complex for seniors on fixed incomes that uses solar panels to offset high winter heating costs. The savings allows the complex owner to charge a flat rate for rent and utilities, so renters can better budget.
DC Sun in Washington installs community solar for low-income apartment renters. The solar energy can cover up to two-thirds of an average electric bill.
“These projects and many more across the country demonstrate the opportunities and benefits solar power can provide for lower income families and communities of color,” said SELC Staff Attorney Lauren Bowen. “It is time for southern utilities to embrace this effort, to bring the power of the sun to all. This guide shows utilities how to accomplish this, bringing cleaner energy and bill relief to customers who need it most.
Watch an interview with Partnership for Southern Equity's founder, Nathaniel Smith.