As sure as the sun rises each morning, hundreds of Californians install solar panels on their homes each day. My local utility, Southern California Edison (SCE), says it is connecting solar customers to the electric grid at a rate of one every 15 minutes. Yet this clean energy boom, fueled by the falling price of solar technology, is bypassing low-income residents in disadvantaged communities who are too often shut out from accessing solar energy’s benefits.
California’s transition to a low-carbon clean energy economy must include all Californians to be sustainable.
SCE has submitted a proposal as part of the response to the California Public Utilities Commission’s planned implementation of Assembly Bill 327; it would allow millions of residents neglected by solar installation companies to gain access to solar energy.
The marketplace has clearly failed these communities. Despite the abundance of “zero-money-down” leasing deals, low-income residents in disadvantaged communities often can’t qualify for these financing arrangements. These residents are less likely to own the property where they reside and don’t have a say in the decision to install solar panels.
The size of this market gap is startling. The CPUC estimates that only 6 percent of California’s residential distributed generation systems -- primarily solar installations, but also wind power and advanced battery systems -- are located in disadvantaged communities (defined not only by economic factors but also environmental, health, and demographic data).
The resulting solar divide will only grow wider in the coming years if not addressed.
Existing incentive programs have helped thousands of low-income residents access solar energy’s benefits. However, these programs do not address the market gap at the community level, and their funding is limited. SCE’s proposal addresses all of the obstacles faced by customers in disadvantaged communities.
Among the proposal’s features:
- Upfront incentives would be available to offset installation costs; these incentives would be available to both income-qualified utility customers in single-family homes and to owners of multi-family residences. Property owners of multi-family residences could be eligible for even greater incentives if they allow tenants to receive credits on their utility bill for installed solar generation.
- Greater support is encouraged for community solar, which allows both property owners and tenants to share in the benefits of an off-site solar power source (think of a community garden, but with PV panels instead of plants).
- Multilingual marketing outreach to both utility customers and installers is included to overcome language barriers.
My organization, Hispanics In Energy, believes that ensuring community access to solar energy’s benefits across all socioeconomic levels is critical to maintaining California’s global leadership in fighting climate change. We have to make sure that state policies narrow the solar divide, and make solar power more accessible to all Californians.
Jose L. Perez is chairman and CEO of Hispanics in Energy.