California

In California, the Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program launched in 2009 along with its sister program, the Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) Program. The programs were financed using 10 percent of the overall $2.2 billion budget from the ratepayer-funded California Solar Initiative (CSI), California’s unprecedented investment in solar market transformation that started in 2006. SASH and MASH are the first-of-their kind programs in the nation. Prior to SASH/MASH, there had not been dedicated low-income solar programs of this size and scope in any state.

The nonprofit organization GRID Alternatives was selected by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)  as the program administrator for SASH. The program provides qualified low-income homeowners fixed, up-front, capacity-based rebates to help offset the cost of a solar electric system. Currently, the SASH program offers one incentive level of three dollars per watt. Eligible applicants must have a household income that is 80 percent or below the area median income, own and live in their home, receive electrical service from one of three investor owned utilities (PG&E, SCE, or SDG&E), and live in a home defined as “affordable housing” by California Public Utilities Code 2852.

Additional program elements include:

  • Gap funding from GRID Alternatives to cover the entire cost of the system;
  • Multilingual marketing and outreach to educate and establish trust in low-income communities;
  • Energy efficiency education and training for all participants;
  • Workforce development and job training initiatives that are incorporated into every installation; and
  • A focus on volunteerism and broad community engagement with solar in low-income communities.

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Although the California Solar Initiative is scheduled to sunset in 2016, SASH/MASH were reauthorized by Assembly Bill 217 (Bradford, 2013), which extended funding until 2021 or until incentives are encumbered, whichever occurs first. By reauthorizing SASH, the California Legislature recognized that despite reduced solar equipment pricing, low-income families will continue to remain on the sidelines of the clean energy economy without continued price support and incentives. Under AB 217 (the Equitable Access to Solar Energy Act), implemented in January 2015, the SASH Program now also allows a “families-first” third-party ownership model that brings the benefits of the federal ITC to participating households. By increasing low-income households’ access to solar, the SASH program helps ensure that all ratepayers who contribute to solar programs also have the opportunity to access the benefits of the programs. The success of SASH has supported research demonstrating the strong return on investment of low-income solar programs, such as the 2014 study from Vanderbilt University and Sandia National Laboratories.

Additionally, in 2015 the state allocated California Climate Investments funds (funds generated by its cap-and-trade program) for low-income solar projects through the California Department of Community Services and Development’s Low-income Weatherization Program (LIWP). SB 535, passed in 2012, required that 25 percent of the cap-and-trade funds be used to benefit environmentally and economically disadvantaged communities. Using a similar structure to the SASH program, this program provides up-front rebates to qualifying residents, and can be used in tandem with SASH incentives for residents who qualify for both. The LIWP Program, includes a direct incentive ($4.75/watt to $1.75/watt rebate, based on eligibility for other funding programs); gap financing provided by the program administrator; and comprehensive programming (direct energy efficiency coordination and workforce development requirements).