Federal Energy Assistance for Solar Access

This summer, Vote Solar had the privilege of hosting Kemet Azubuike, an environmental fellow through University of Michigan’s Environmental Program. During his fellowship, Kemet researched and wrote Sustainable Investment: A Working Paper on Using Federal Energy Assistance for Solar.

This report provides an analysis and evaluation of the LIHEAP and WAP and the facilitation of solar energies incorporated within these programs to address energy burden in low-income communities. To date, very few state and local officials administering LIHEAP and WAP have taken advantage of the opportunity to integrate solar into these programs. One reason is that, until recently, solar prices were too high for the integration to represent a good investment. Additionally, the rules and regulations regarding the integration of solar into these programs have not been well understood.

In the last five years, federal energy assistance funding under LIHEAP and WAP totals approximately $15 billion. Both are important programs that assist low-income families in paying their energy bills, provide weatherization services, and install health and safety improvements for their homes. However, in the case of energy bill assistance, the important question being raised in this paper is: are current energy assistance practices providing lasting solutions?

The research draws attention to the fact that there is not only growing support for solar in low-income communities, but policy-makers at all levels are increasingly interested in making solar available for low-income families. State policy leaders are becoming increasingly attuned to the need for greater solar deployment in low-income communities, and legislation and programming to accomplish this is being introduced at the state level with more frequency.  Local governments, too, are seeking ways to expand access to solar for their most vulnerable communities. This growing interest among policy leaders can be directed to the integration of solar into energy assistance programs such as LIHEAP and WAP. States that have successfully integrated solar with energy assistance funds are California and Colorado, with other states such as Minnesota and Oregon in the process of doing the same.

This report finds that there are patterns states have followed that can better assist state energy officers to incorporate solar in their state energy plans. These include advocating for policies for net metering, partnering with state utilities, forming partnerships with community action organizations, developing public/private partnership for innovative financing, building relationships with energy officials at every level, demonstrating measurable savings in energy costs, and gaining access to state utility renewable funds.

It is recommended that state energy officers: leverage state and federal energy policies to support low-income solar deployment; develop a financial model that works for low-income solar; are familiar with federal energy assistance policies; and build relationships with state energy offices and community advocacy groups.

The full report is available here:Sustainable Investment: A Working Paper on Using Federal Energy Assistance for Solar.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT Sign up for updates from Vote Solar on solar progress and energy justice across the U.S.