Homeowners across the country have typically participated in the solar market by installing solar directly on their property to meet a portion of their own energy needs. Coupling the core policies used to develop a strong rooftop solar market with specific provisions for ensuring low-income participation can effectively expand solar access among single-family homeowners. A low-income solar program for single-family homes provides significantly reduced- to no-cost solar electric systems to households that qualify as low-income. The definition of low-income varies by location but is typically defined as 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). The cost of the solar electric system is covered by a variety of sources, again based on location. Federal, state, and local incentives may be used to cover the cost, as well as philanthropic funds and equipment donations.
What makes these low-income single family solar policies successful? They all take advantage of net metering, have adequate dedicated funding sources, and incorporate some or all of the guiding principles of a low-income solar program laid out in Section I. In a snapshot:
- DC’s recent programs included a direct incentive ($2.70/watt rebate). At no upfront cost to the homeowners, the installations were financed using a combination of SRECs, federal tax incentives, local incentives, and contractor financing.
- CA’s SASH Program includes a direct incentive ($3.00/watt rebate); gap financing provided by the program administrator; and comprehensive programming (energy efficiency requirement and workforce development).
- CA’s GoSolarSF includes a direct incentive (residential incentive and supplemental low-income incentive).
- CA’s Richmond R3 Program included a direct incentive (state and local rebates) and indirect incentives.
- MA’s Solar Carve-Out II/SREC II includes a direct incentive (solar generation serving low-income customers eligible for the highest SREC multiplier available ).
- MA’s Solar Loan Program includes financing (cash-flow positive loans).
New York’s single family low-income solar program demonstrates why higher incentive levels are necessary to move low-income solar access forward in a scalable manner. The Green Jobs-Green New York program (Green Jobs-Green New York Act of 2009) provides residential solar incentives and financing options for customers via the NY-Sun Initiative, as well as workforce development opportunities. Through NY-Sun, the state provides rebates and affordable financing for the installation of approved, grid-connected solar systems. NY-Sun’s Affordable Solar Program provides double the standard incentive amount for households earning less than 80 percent of the area or state median income, whichever is greater. Via a pilot program, NY-Sun also offered low-income customers low-interest loans to pay for solar installations, which were repaid on the customer’s utility bill, up to $6,000. Customers with credit scores above 540 were eligible, among other loan approval criteria. The program ran through 2016 and was limited to 300 projects.
Despite these incentives, NYSERDA reports that, during the second quarter of 2016, six solar installations were completed under the Affordable Solar program, and applications for 16 installations were approved. During the same period, under the non-low-income incentive program, 5,506 installations were completed and NYSERDA received applications for 4,108 projects. These numbers corroborate accounts by installers who would like to serve low-income customers in New York, but who cannot leverage a double incentive to overcome the many barriers they and their customers face. Hopefully, as REV moves forward and various aspects of the solar market are addressed, low-income solar access will be further incentivized to produce scalable results.