How solar energy policies could help more low-income residents
Reverend Mariama White-Hammond is a passionate climate justice activist and founding pastor of New Roots AME Church, a multiracial congregation in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. She wants to give low-income households and diverse populations a real stake in the state’s race to build a clean energy future. Massachusetts solar policy, she told me, “should target people for whom there is a double benefit in not just having solar power, but maybe having two or three more meals.” per week because of the money they save. ”
Today, more than 18% of the state’s electricity comes from the sun, making Massachusetts a leader in solar energy. But for Massachusetts to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as required by Massachusetts’ new climate bill, the role of renewables will need to grow significantly in the years to come. .
Installing photovoltaic panels on low-income households may not propel our state to great heights in solar power generation, but it will help close the disparity Rev. White-Hammond raises. In 2013, when my wife and I purchased solar power for our home, we were excited about the investment tax credits that reduced the price of our solar panel by almost $ 10,000 by $ 27,000. $. In the space of six years, our solar panel had more than paid for itself by encouraging production and reducing electricity bills. But low-income residents did not fare as well.
For many, raising capital to buy a home solar panel is an insurmountable hurdle. Investment tax credits provide no real help to households with limited taxable income. The Mass Solar Loan program, which ran from 2015 to 2020, made it easier to finance solar energy for nearly 5,800 homeowners in Massachusetts, but just over a third of those loans went to households in low income.
As a first step, Massachusetts should revive and expand the Mass Solar Loan program, targeting low-interest loans to low-income households and partially converting them to grants, as it has done in the past. Re-energizing this program will give low-income homeowners valuable solar access, but it still won’t reach those who can’t afford the reduced cost of a subsidized loan. Tenants of collective housing also do not benefit from loans because they have no ownership rights on the roofs and parking lots of their buildings.
The Mass Solar Loan program … made it easier to finance solar energy for nearly 5,800 massive homeowners, but just over a third of those loans went to low-income households.
“Community-shared” solar projects offer an interesting alternative that the state is now promoting through its SMART Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program. Instead of serving a single building, a community solar panel can be installed on a commercial rooftop, closed landfill, or other solar-friendly property. Several households can subscribe, gaining a share of the energy production of the installation. Under SMART, an increased compensation rate applies to community solar installations that allocate at least 50% of their electricity production to low-income customers and residents of neighborhoods that meet the state’s environmental justice criteria – a combination of income, racial makeup, and limited command of the English language.
Resonant Energy is one of several Massachusetts solar developers actively using this special SMART incentive. In December 2020, he completed a project at Temple Emunah in Lexington, where solar parking canopies provide discounted electricity to 20 low-income households, while providing 80% of the temple’s energy needs. Using another SMART incentive, Resonant Energy has installed solar panels on 32 affordable multi-family housing projects where the benefits of solar energy are shared with tenants in the building.
The recently passed Massachusetts climate bill also includes funding for clean energy workforce training and placement, start-up support for women and minority-owned businesses, and grants. solar installation to nonprofits focused on homelessness, food security and emergency shelter. But the challenge of promoting equity and justice through clean energy should not lie solely with forward-looking states like ours.
The rooftops of the United States are a gold mine of renewable energy, potentially supplying up to 39% of our energy needs nationwide.
President Biden has declared his commitment to “aim[ing] 40% of the benefits of investments in climate and clean infrastructure for disadvantaged communities. In addition to opening jobs for residents of those communities, the Biden administration is expected to free up federal money to help make low-income homes ready for solar energy. Too many older buildings in low-income neighborhoods have aging roofs and outdated electrical systems that prohibitively increase the costs of installing solar power. Constrained by current guidelines, federal support rarely reaches them. Long-established energy assistance programs should be refocused on closing this gap.
In addition, the federal investment tax credit, which the president seeks to extend for 10 years, should be convertible into a subsidy for solar installations to benefit low-income households that are not subject to tax. , allowing them to benefit from the tax credit. The President alluded to this possibility in his references to a “direct payment” alternative to the tax credit claim.
The rooftops of the United States are a gold mine of renewable energy, potentially supplying up to 39% of our energy needs nationwide. They also offer an opportunity for energy justice that should not be wasted.
This story is part of Cover the climate now, a global journalistic collaboration of more than 400 news organizations dedicated to better coverage of the climate crisis. This year’s theme is “living the climate crisis”.
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