Delivering Solar to Low-Income Households in New York
How New York is working to expand access to solar power and open up energy choice
In New York, low-income households have low participation rates in renewable energy, such as solar, plus they are facing higher energy costs relative to income. That does not need to be the case, especially during the increasing uncertainty we are all facing at this time.
For that reason, we have summarized some of the programs that help low-income households access solar energy. One of the primary barriers to accessing solar is knowing how to. Other barriers which access to solar power include:
High upfront costs
Federal tax credits don’t cover enough of the costs
Unusable rooftop space
Lack of information about solar
The Green New Deal and Solar for Low Income Households
Before we get directly into the programs, a little word first on what’s driving and supporting many solar programs, Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal, also know as the Climate Mobilization Act. This package of 10 bills is one of the most ambitious carbon reduction efforts across the U.S. and puts the focus on buildings, some of the heaviest emitters in the city.
The centerpiece, “The Dirty Buildings Act,” requires that buildings reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Greening the building through new windows, other retrofits and renewable energy initiatives, such as a solar rooftop – all help to reduce emissions, and ultimately, support the larger state goal of achieving 70% total renewable energy by 2030.
Below we outline a few of the best solar programs in New York, implemented by NYSERDA to help low-to-moderate income families access solar.
NYSERDA: Solar for All
Solar for All essentially supports community solar programs and a key pillar to expanding access to renewables. Community solar programs operate on a subscription basis. Anyone can sign up for a solar program in their area and will, in turn, receive bill credits for their portion of the solar project. The real benefit for low-income families comes from the energy savings, which can amount to 10%.
With this program, NYSERDA finances solar programs with the direct intention to benefit low-to-moderate income families, who cannot install solar panels on their residence. Community solar providers bypasses that installation through the subscription model and with that, the upfront capital cost and the space requirement. As a result, community solar programs remove two barriers to access for low-income households who are often also renters.
The main benefits of this program include:
Requires no upfront costs or payments
Low-income families save money from their monthly bills; you start saving $5-15 a month once you’re assigned to a project
Requires little to no work to participate; all you need to do is fill out a form
Flexible program and lets you cancel anytime without penalty
Subscribers help their community by promoting clean energy
Solar Program Planning and Execution
“Reforming the Energy Vision”, introduced by Governor Cuomo, commits the State to create a cleaner, more affordable energy system for all New York residents, and so far, emphasizing low-income families. Also known as REVitalize, the initiative helps community-based organizations plan for, develop, and implement clean energy projects for the areas they serve.
As part of this program, NYSERD works closely with community-based organizations that serve LMI communities. So far, NYSERDA has awarded contracts to four CBOs that serve LMI communities. These organizations help build a process to organize community-scale clean energy projects that directly impact the LMI communities who need energy equality most.
The main benefits of this program include:
Creates toolkits and templates that aid communities with the energy project planning process
Increases access to clean energy projects for low-income communities
Puts the focus on local clean energy
NYSERDA’s NY-SUN program is one of the most efficient programs in place that zeros in on solar power to low-income households. Introduced in support of Governor Cuomo’s REV commitment, the main goal of NY-SUN is to make solar energy more accessible to homes, businesses, and communities.
The program provides several resources that address many of the barriers we listed above:
Financial incentives for homes and businesses to make solar more affordable
Educational resources on solar to support informed decision making
Resources for local governments and jurisdictions that support solar programs to alleviate barriers to solar access
Supports Community Solar programs to drive participation for ALL New Yorkers
The programs we’ve listed above were designed to both educate New Yorkers on the benefits of solar energy and increase the number of energy options for low-to-moderate-income households.
Addressing LMI participation with solar is key to achieving the goals set out in the Climate Mobilization Act. Since LMI households make up a large percentage of families in New York, any barriers in participation will put the brakes on climate action.
In a more recent development, Governor Cuomo announced that he would advance a 30-day budget amendment in order to speed up the permitting and construction of renewable energy projects. This amendment addresses one of the main stalls for solar project development that slows our progress towards the aggressive green targets set for New York.
New York has set an example for the rest of the county with support for clean energy for all. Even in these trying times, it is not a time to ignore energy injustice and the long-term threat of climate change. With the programs listed here, along with local community solar programs across the state, we hope to see more states follow New York’s example and implement a commitment to bring solar power to low-income households.
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Despite the astonishing increase in the number of community solar installations over the past few years in New York and across the United States, the general awareness of community solar remains very low.