In 2016, we launched a Low-Income Solar Access Program dedicated to expanding access to solar technology, savings and jobs to the approximately 22 million low-income households nationwide, and in doing so accelerate clean air and climate progress for all. We put a particular focus on engaging and empowering low-income families and communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of the fossil fuel economy and have the most to gain from a transition to affordable clean energy. We were no strangers to this work, having stood with community and equity groups to advance solar programs with low-income provisions in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York in recent years. But we are hugely excited about now having a committed member of our staff working full time to partner, identify opportunities and push for continued progress.

2017 Low-Income Program Priorities:

The 2016 election left the outlook for global and federal climate policy uncertain at best. Our communities, our health and our climate cannot afford anything less than an urgent transition to clean energy -- and state-level solar campaigns are one of the few remaining viable opportunities for making progress.  

 Against that context, our work expanding access to solar among low-income communities will deliver immediate carbon-reduction benefits without relying on federal leadership, that will help improve health and wellbeing in the communities most impacted by our fossil economy, and – by giving more people a stake in the renewable economy – will increase longer-term political will for continued climate and clean energy progress at all levels of government.

Installation of rooftop solar

Every state campaign is unique to its local politics and policy needs, but our approach to expanding community access to solar in the current political climate can be categorized into two broad strategies for maintaining solar progress:

1. Go big on low-income solar access policy in leading states: Policymakers in progressive states understand that continued U.S. climate progress depends on their leadership and are looking for opportunities to showcase commitments to clean energy and inclusion. This presents a real opportunity to advance more aggressive renewable energy goals and significantly expand solar access in these states. State targets include:

 California: The nation’s solar leader has leadership that is committed building an inclusive clean energy economy and motivated to demonstrate progress under the current Presidential Administration. The state offers an opportunity to demonstrate what’s technically and politically possible when it comes to solar and clean energy progress. In 2017 we will partner with leading environmental justice organizations to improve the state’s community solar program with strong low-income provisions.  

 Nevada: Following a devastating blow to the once-thriving rooftop industry in late 2015, deep organizing and direct engagement in legislative, regulatory and judicial forums has the state on a path to lead once again. We are using this opportunity to push for a new community solar program with strong provisions for low-income participation.

New York: We celebrated a major win in 2015 with the PSC issuing a final order for a new Shared Renewables program with a strong focus on low- and moderate-income participation. However, the complexity and duration of the ongoing REV process means that it has yet to translate into significant new community solar development. Now is the time to ensure that the Empire State’s program delivers on its promise of broadening solar participation and serves as a model for other states. Vote Solar will participate directly and help other community stakeholders engage in the Low-Income Customer Collaborative, monitor program progress and provide any necessary guidance for strengthening the program in future phases.

Massachusetts: In 2016, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a compromise bill that raised the restrictive net metering cap, but decreased the reimbursement rate for commercial and community solar projects by 40%. The state’s once-strong low-income community solar market was hit particularly hard. As part of the 2017 discussions net metering and SREC III discussions, we will work to strengthen opportunities for low-income solar participation once again.

2. National Thought-Leadership: We will also build awareness and support for policies and strategies for expanding low-income access to solar through participation in conferences and forums that specifically target the following key audiences nationally: the solar industry, the environmental justice and equity community, and state policymakers – particularly progressive legislators and regulators.

Highlights of our work to date include:

  • Advanced low-income solar access policy in a number of states, including: Colorado, Maryland, New York, Illinois and built foundations for major new policy in both California and Nevada.
  • Partnered with the Center for Social Inclusion and Grid Alternatives to produce and launch our Low-Income Solar Policy Guide at media and community events in Colorado, New York and Washington, DC.
  • Partnered with NAACP and Earthjustice on five regional Energy Justice trainings in: San Francisco, Baltimore, Miami and Detroit. Combined, we helped train about 100 NAACP leaders from nearly all 50 states – including the newly instated regional fellows who will be providing ongoing support within the organization. The curriculum covered the governance of our power system, the utility business model, and the suite of “just energy policies” that support a clean energy transition – including net metering. Vote Solar administered a grant, arranged travel, hosted pre-training webinars, and helped lead sections of the trainings themselves.
    • Our partnership with the NAACP continues, with more Energy Justice trainings being planned in Michigan and Alabama, as well as via an online platform.
  • Work with the DOE’s Clean Energy for Low-Income Communities Accelerator to provide assistance to local organizations and agencies that are seeking ways to bring access to solar and other clean energy technologies to their communities.
  • Participated in panels and presentations at conferences that reach solar industry, equity and policymaker audiences, including: Solar Power International and a co-hosted Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) webinar series; NAACP state conferences in states as diverse as Alabama and Illinois; and the State Innovation Exchange (SIX) convening of progressive policymakers.
  • Built coalitions on the state and national level, with activities including a monthly call that reaches more than 50 organizations, and bi-monthly webinars on low-income solar topics. 

Our guide

Low income solar policy guide photograph

Low-Income Solar Guide

Vote Solar, GRID Alternatives, and Center for Social Inclusion guide to programs and policies that promote low-income access to solar. 

In the news 

Solar Industry: Making Solar Accessible for All: Key Takeaways from the Industry Diversity Study by Pari Kasotia & Melanie Santiago-Mosier

Medium: Rising to Meet the Challenge of Solar for All by Melanie Santiago-Mosier

The Hill: Good Energy Policy is Good People Policy by Adam Browning and Erica Mackie, GRID Alternatives

Governing: Unlocking Clean Energy in Low-Income Communities by Melanie Santiago-Mosier 

Capitol Weekly: Looking Ahead: Solar Energy for All by Susannah Churchill and Miya Yoshitani, Asian Pacific Environmental Network

Blog: A Bright Spot for Low-Income Solar in Illinois by Melanie Santiago-Mosier

Blog: Consumer Protection: A Key Principle for Successful Low-income Solar Policy by Melanie Santiago-Mosier 

Program staff

Melanie Santiago-Mosier
Program Director of Low Income Solar Access

Additional resources