Federal Partnerships/Best Practices Sharing

Guiding principles: Community Engagement
Barriers addressed: Compatibility and Integration, Market Forces

The White House, as well as federal agencies like the Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), have recognized and voiced the importance and positive impact of low-income solar programs. Dedicated funding from federal sources for low-income solar programs has been largely absent, but a few partnerships have formed to ensure best practices sharing between jurisdictions looking to or in the process of implementing low-income solar programs.  Partnerships with federal agencies are very valuable because they help provide impetus at a national level for making state- and local-level solar policies more inclusive of low-income families. Below are a few of the national efforts underway in support of low-income solar programs.

  1. In July 2015, the White House, in partnership with the DOE SunShot Initiative, announced the National Community Solar Partnership to increase access to solar energy for all Americans, in particular low- and moderate- income communities, while expanding opportunities to join the solar workforce. In July 2016, the White House announced the Clean Energy Savings for All Americans Initiative, which will work to ensure that every household has options to choose to go solar and put in place additional measures to promote energy efficiency. To continue along this track, the Administration, in collaboration with state agencies, announced a new catalytic goal to bring 1 gigawatt (GW) of solar to low- and moderate-income families by 2020. In late 2016, the DOE  SunShot Initiative also launched the “Solar in Your Community Challenge,”a $5 million contest to support innovative and replicable community-based solar business models and programs that will bring solar to underserved communities
  2. HUD’s Renew300 initiative provides technical assistance to educate affordable housing owners about the broad benefits and opportunities that solar energy provides. With updated commitments made in July 2016, the initiative is on track to install 344 MW of solar by 2020, exceeding its goal of 300 megawatts (MW) of solar and other types of renewable energy on federally-subsidized housing.
  3. As part of the DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020, the Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver partnered with a number of organizations to both develop and finance a project that brought photovoltaic solar to 387 affordable housing buildings throughout the city. Announced May 2016, the DOE’s Better Buildings Clean Energy in Low Income Communities Accelerator supports the President’s Climate Action Plan with a goal to accelerate investment in home energy efficiency improvement projects across the country. The focus of the collaboration is to lower energy bills in low-income communities through expanded installation of energy efficiency and distributed renewables. The program will encourage the development of innovative partnerships, best practices and funding models that a state-level agency, local government or utility program could deploy for communities that need it most.
  4. DOE and HUD partnered with the U.S. Department of Education in developing STEM, Energy, and Economic Development (SEED): Coalitions for Community Growth, an innovative place-based initiative to create economic opportunity and energy-literate communities. SEED’s focus is on inspiring public housing residents around the country to pursue careers in energy, and preparing them to join its labor force. The SEED initiative links existing federal investments and activities to local coalitions to expand or launch programs based on energy literacy, STEM Education, and job-driven skills training.
  5. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act may be an opportunity for low-income solar programs. Under the CPP, the EPA established new limits on carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, and requires states to develop their own compliance plans for meeting those standards. In some states, the implementation and planning process may create opportunities for more low-income solar investments over time. Notably, in the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP), the EPA is providing additional incentives to encourage states to invest in programs that make energy efficient property, including solar, more accessible to low-income communities.The CPP and CEIP represent one of the largest opportunities to continue the support and vision to make the clean energy economy more accessible to all families and communities.
  6. There is growing interest in using federal energy assistance funding for low-income solar installations, as described in a recent George Washington Solar Institute report. In 2010, the California Department of Community Services & Development (CSD) set aside $14.7 million, a portion of its annual federally-funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) allocation, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to fund an innovative pilot program that allowed 1,482 low-income households to receive fully installed solar systems. The California pilot program ended in 2012.

    The Department of Energy recently authorized Colorado, through the Colorado Energy Office (CEO), to be the first state to integrate rooftop solar into its Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). CEO is moving forward in 2017 with a  pilot leveraging eligible WAP funding and matching incentives from Xcel Energy Colorado, aiming to comprehensively address energy burden through weatherization and solar for 300 low-income households by 2019.