As the country’s energy sector generates and interconnects more renewable energy to the grid, it has also shined a light on disparities in access to clean energy and the benefits that come with it. A critical component to a decarbonized future is ensuring that accessibility to solar energy extends to communities that have been historically overlooked and ensure green energy equality for all.
Vote Solar’s Access & Equity Advisory Committee (AEAC), recently released a policy brief that provides solutions to barriers in state-run solar program implementation in low-to-moderate income (LMI) communities. Nexamp’s CEO, Zaid Ashai, was proud to participate in this committee and provided insight derived from Nexamp’s participation in LMI community solar programs in several states.
AEAC is recommending two key changes to make LMI community solar expansion programs more accessible and successful:
Automatic enrollment in community solar programs
To date, the biggest barrier for LMI households to access community solar programs have been income verification processes and qualification requirements. In many programs, onerous and sometimes humiliating income verification processes keep eligible subscribers from participating. By automatically enrolling low-to-moderate income households based on participate in another benefits program, such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), these challenges can be diminished, allowing more families and communities to accessing clean energy and the benefits that come with it.
Financial support for community outreach
There is an understandable skepticism in many states about electricity programs intended for LMI customers, which is why outreach remains a critical factor for reducing barriers related to customer acquisition. Often, reaching out and connecting with a customer to ultimately enroll them into a community solar program is a time-intensive process. Most state LMI solar programs do not include funding for community outreach. The money that developers do receive from the state is allocated towards the solar project only. State and federal funding programs should include a specific allocation for LMI community outreach along with education around community solar and approved solar developers. You can read the committee’s brief on votesolar.org.
At Nexamp, our commitment to accessibility extends to the projects we build. We know from experience that using third party qualifying programs to automatically enroll subscribers in our community solar program makes the process simpler. We currently operate or are developing solar farms with reserved capacity strictly for low-income customers in New Jersey, New York, Illinois and Maryland. More equality can come from more accessibility to clean energy. Expanding renewable energy programs to LMI communities should remain a top priority for states, policymakers and the solar industry to ensure accessibility across all economic levels.