- Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Washington, D.C., will be piloting a new community solar subscription platform, a tool to connect low-income households with community projects that can help with electric bill savings. The platform could help their residents see more than $1 billion in collective electric bill savings annually, the Department of Energy announced Wednesday.
- In addition, the agency announced that $10 million in funding approved under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be channeled toward creating more solar energy jobs in underserved communities.
- Low-income households tend to spend a disproportionate amount of their income — almost 9% — on energy costs, according to DOE data. “That adds up to tens of millions of Americans who are forced to make hard decisions between keeping the lights on or staying cool, and making other essential purchases like food and medicine,” the Biden administration said in a fact sheet.
Solar energy can help customers reduce their electricity bills, but remains unaffordable or difficult to access for many across the country. In this context, community solar — or a shared solar project — can help multiple customers who can’t put solar systems on their own rooftops, according to DOE.
The pilot community solar subscription platform will be open to customers who participate in the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program — which provides bill payment assistance, weatherization, energy-related home repairs, and other similar services to eligible households — as well as other low-income assistance programs.
DOE will be working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build the digital platform, with the aim of connecting these customers with community solar subscriptions that can ultimately both reduce their energy bills, and increase the development of community solar projects in the participating regions.
The five states and Washington, D.C., which will be piloting the platform, will provide DOE with data and feedback on the platform.
In addition, the DOE announced $10 million in funding for new workforce programs to help bring more people from underserved communities and underrepresented groups into the solar sector.
Community solar programs are essential to expanding renewable energy across Illinois, Gov. J. B. Pritzker, D, said in a statement.
“By supporting low-income communities who want to participate in this program, we can increase energy efficiency in the long term and provide impactful access to cost-saving solar energy for the households in our state that need it most,” Pritzker added.
The effort was also lauded by solar advocates. Community solar is one of the best ways to help more low-income and moderate-income families access solar energy, but lengthy sign-up processes can often present barriers to that, according to Sean Gallagher, the Solar Energy Industries Association’s vice president of state and regulatory affairs.
“We commend DOE for taking targeted action and creating a program that addresses one of the top challenges for obtaining community solar customers,” Gallagher said in a statement.