There are a lot of good reasons for investing in solar energy in 2018, but one of the best reasons is that solar energy can strengthen your entire community. Michelle Moore, former White House environmental advisor and current CEO of Groundswell, points out that clean energy also results in more economic equity. That’s because working families have long borne the brunt of the health risks and economic hardships caused by energy monopolies. She says that “Nearly 50% of Americans aren’t able to switch to solar because they don’t own their roof, don’t have a roof in the right location, or are struggling financially and can’t qualify for financing even if it could help lower their energy bill.”
That’s why Groundswell, a clean energy non-profit organization, is partnering with financiers at Sustainable Capital Advisors to make it possible for more low-income people to benefit from solar energy. Founder and CEO Trenton Allen is committed to “working with Groundswell to create economic opportunities in clean energy for low and moderate-income communities that haven’t been able to participate before.” That commitment includes using alternative methods of determining loan eligibility, such as utility bill payment history. His organization is also experimenting with communities pooling resources for solar purchases.
Community solar provides a way for anyone to go solar, even without installing solar panels on their own property. That means even those without property can enjoy the benefits of solar energy. Those benefits aren’t just economic despite the substantial savings in monthly energy costs. They are also social and environmental. For example, community members that sponsor a solar array for a community center or a church will benefit from all the extra social programs and activities the organization is able to afford due to lower energy bills. Cleaner local air and water also benefit everyone, no matter what their socio-economic status.
Van Jones, a former green jobs advisor for the Obama administration, views solar energy as an opportunity for low-income people to increase their resilience in the event of a natural disaster. He says that unfortunately, right now, “the big energy companies just use America’s power grids as their own personal property.” Scientists predict that natural disasters like Hurricane Maria will increase in both number and intensity as global warming continues. Tragedies such as the one in Puerto Rico, where thousands of residents are still without electricity, illustrate the consequences of community members depending too heavily on energy giants– and too little on each other.
Fortunately, there are already a number of successful solar cooperative projects. In many states. Virtual Net Metering (VNM) has made it possible for more people to benefit from community solar energy projects. The projects operate on the same principle as net metering for individual rooftop solar systems, with one difference. VNM allows a household or business to receive energy credits even though their electric meter is not connected to the solar project. That means that every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity generated by a community solar farm will reduce the participant’s power bill by the same amount that their share generates. For example, if a participant’s share of the project produces 5kWh of electricity, they’ll receive 5kWh of net metering credits on their monthly power bill.
While VNM has been effective in promoting community solar projects nationwide, some other types of equally effective models are being developed as well. Community solar projects and programs usually provide participants with two options—ownership or subscription. The ownership model permits participants to own some of the solar panels used for a larger project. They can earn energy credits, or even profits, from any electric power generated by their solar panels. Participants in the subscription model pay a lower price for electricity generated by the community solar farm. Although the concept of community solar is relatively new, companies, groups, and even public utilities are already taking advantage of the benefits. Becoming a participant in a community solar program is a great way to start saving money towards investing in your own solar energy system in the future.
If you’re ready to invest in solar energy, whether in an individual system or a community project, there are number of financing options available, including grants. The Federal Housing Administration created the PowerSaver program to help people make energy cost improvements to their homes. Those improvements include the installation of solar energy systems. As a homeowner, you’re eligible to borrow up to $25,000 and have up to 20 years to complete FHA/HUD approved energy improvements. The FHA also guarantees up to 90 percent of loans provided through private lenders.
The transition to solar energy is inevitable. Unlike sunshine, the supply of fossil fuels is limited. The more limited it has become, the more crimes have been perpetrated against both our natural and social environments. Too often, oil companies and their lobbyists have determined both what constitutes environmental crime and what the consequences should be. However, the reality is that not even the millions of dollars in fines will be able to purchase a single drop of clean water once it has all been contaminated.
The good news is that community solar now has a lobbying group of its own. A trade organization led by businesses called the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA), its members include First Solar, Recurrent Energy, Ethical Electric and Eco-plexus. Hopefully, that lobby will help make the transition to solar, (and back to sanity), a timely one.