A new report entitled Solar for All examines what utilities can do to make solar power more accessible for more Americans, particularly in lower-income areas and communities of color. It is the result of a collaboration between the Southern Environmental Law Center the Partnership for Southern Equity, and the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development. It is also supported by more than a dozen other state and regional organizations.
The report addresses the important issue of solar equity and access — the idea that we need to do more to make sure underserved populations have better access to solar PV systems and the benefits that come from them. The report focuses on three things utility companies can do to broaden the availability of solar power technology across the entire geographical area they service.
The authors suggest a range of options for financing residential solar systems more affordable for more people. That could involve nothing more than taking advantage of programs that are already in place and helping to power the growth of residential solar. Those include third-party arrangements like solar leases or power purchase agreements. On-bill financing is another plan. It lets the utility company pay for the residential solar system and get paid back by adding the monthly financing to the customer’s utility bill.
Many people don’t have a roof that is suitable for residential solar. Others, like tenants, don’t own a roof they can install panels on. Community solar systems offer a way to get the benefits of residential solar for those people. Community solar installations can be situated in underserved communities. Many also offer job training for local people interested in getting involved in the solar power industry.
Leveraging of existing programs
Federal, state, and local programs that are already in place to serve low-income customers, such as energy efficiency initiatives, can be expanded to cover solar, too, the report suggests. Adding solar energy systems goes hand in hand with efficiency upgrades.
“Solar power,” the report says, “presents an opportunity to provide low and middle income customers with clean, affordable, renewable energy, helping families to control energy costs while expanding investments in local communities.” Utilities need to be active, helpful partners in making that happen.
Lauren Bowen, an SELC attorney, says that the examples in the report “demonstrate the opportunities and benefits solar power can provide for lower income families and communities of color.” And, she says, “It is time for southern utilities to embrace this effort, to bring the power of the sun to all.”