HOW TO CRAFT LOW-INCOME SOLAR PROGRAMS THAT WORK FOR YOUR STATE AND COMMUNITY
This toolkit is intended to help connect entities (states, municipalities, nonprofit organizations, tribal governments and Territories) applying for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Solar for All Program with frontline, BIPOC and marginalized groups interested in providing input on program design. Click the links below to learn more about low-income solar program design, best practices and state/local examples.
For questions about this toolkit or Vote Solar’s participation in the Solar for All Program please reach out to Olivia Nedd, Sr. Policy Director Access & Equity firstname.lastname@example.org
Jump to a Section:
Solar for All Basics
Program Best Practices
Building an Equity-Centered Program
State Examples of Programs
Where to Get Assistance on Applying to the EPA’s Solar for All Program
Solar for All Basics
The EPA released the $7 billion Solar for All program on June 28, 2023. The program is a competitive grant that will award up to 60 grants to states, territories, Tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, and municipalities to increase the number of low-income and disadvantaged households and communities that are ready for solar energy. Frontline and BIPOC communities have historically been underserved by clean energy resources. For low-wealth households, energy burden is a critical concern, because of the percentage of their income that goes towards energy expenses as compared to higher-income households. This disproportionate burden can lead to families making tradeoffs on healthcare and household needs, as well as financial stress. Clean energy technologies like solar have the potential to reduce that burden, so long as it is equitably distributed across communities.
- To learn more about energy burden, check out the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) Energy Burden Report. The report explores energy burden patterns nationally, regionally, and across all metro areas and also provides recommendations.
- The Sierra Club offers an energy burden calculator to help you estimate the percentage of your income that is spent on energy expenses.
- The Department of Energy offers the Low-income Energy Affordability Data (LEAD) Tool is an online platform that allows users to compare the cost of energy relative to income, also known as the energy burden, for various geographic regions. These data-driven insights can assist with program planning and creating better energy policy.
- Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool was created by executive order in 2021 as an interactive map that uses datasets as indicators of burdens in eight categories (climate change, energy, health, housing, legacy pollution, transportation, water, wastewater and workforce development). The tool uses this information to identify communities that are experiencing these burdens.
Solar program design requires the strategic planning and implementation of initiatives aimed at promoting equitable access to solar energy and storage systems. This includes a number of aspects, including program and subscription design considerations, financing options, community engagement, trust building, incentive structures and fees to name a few. Effective solar program design must take into account local, state and federal policy, and racial and class implications. Below are links to a collection of resources that support creating a robust solar program that benefits everyone, especially BIPOC and low-wealth communities.
- Community Solar Program Design and Subscription Models – this resource from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) provides an overview of community solar program design and subscription models. It introduces program and subscription design considerations, explains the different components of program and subscription design, and ends with best practices when designing a community solar program.
- A Guidebook on Equitable Clean Energy Program Design for Local Governments and Partners – This guide from the Cadmus Group helps local governments design equitable clean energy programs.
- Achieving Cooperative Community Equitable Solar Sources (ACCESS) – the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s (NRECA) project, Achieving Cooperative Community Equitable Solar Sources (ACCESS), research shows how to make solar energy affordable for communities with fewer financial resources and extend the benefits of solar development to low-and moderate-income (LMI) consumers. The project explored and amplified the use of innovative, cost-effective energy access programs to serve co-ops’ consumer members in need, particularly the LMI communities.
- Affordable and Accessible Solar for All: Barriers, Solutions, and On-Site Adoption Potential – This NREL report reviews the market and regulatory barriers to low-income solar access and affordability, and summarizes current solutions to those challenges.
- Community Solar for Low-Income and Disadvantaged Communities Program Design Options – This document from the Clean Energy States Alliance offers insights into how states can design and launch community solar programs that benefit disadvantaged communities and low- and moderate-income (LMI) households using the $7 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) Solar for All competition (Solar for All) and take advantage of new tax credits features available under the Inflation Reduction Act.
- Design and Implementation of Community Solar Programs for Low-and Moderate-Income Customers – This report draws from the literature and interviews with representatives from LMI solar, developers and state LMI community solar programs to provide experience on LMI community solar program development.
- Expanding Solar Access: Pathways for Multifamily Housing – This guide from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) outlines two potential paths to enable solar access for renters, multifamily residents, and LMI communities. The first is on-site shared solar, which allows energy credits from a single solar system to be shared virtually among multiple tenant accounts. The second is off-site/remote shared solar, which allows multiple dispersed customers to share the economic benefits of a single renewable energy system and receive bill credits for electricity generated by that common system.
- Getting Started: Solar for Multi-Family Affordable –This document from GRID Alternatives lists factors to consider while examining the feasibility of solar for MFAH properties.
- Shared Renewable Energy for Low- to Moderate-Income Consumers: Policy Guidelines and Model Provisions – These guidelines support the adoption and implementation of shared renewables programs that provide tangible benefits to LMI individuals and households.
- The Community Solar Policy Decision Matrix Guidance for Designing Community Solar Programs is a policy decision matrix to aid policymakers in designing community solar programs. This matrix is intended to lead policymakers through important questions, grouped into five categories, which should be addressed when designing programs. To answer these questions, we provide a menu of options, focusing on those that will spur market development while providing choices to customize programs to meet a state’s needs and goals.
- Focusing the Sun: State Considerations for Designing Community Solar Policy provides information on best practices for structuring low- to moderate-income carveouts, costs and benefits for programs
Program Best Practices
When developing a solar program, think of best practices as a set of guidelines and strategies that promote access and equity, effective development, and implementation. There are a number of unique barriers and challenges BIPOC and low-wealth populations face when seeking to access solar. A combination of various best practices can reduce challenges, maximize the benefits of solar adoption, and minimize potential harm. Program best practices can include a combination of technical approaches, financial strategies and regulatory considerations. Below you will find information about solar program best practices that advance equity for BIPOC and low-wealth communities, advance the workforce, and foster overall participation and engagement in programs.
- Identifying Customers
- To identify potential audiences for your campaigns, you can use the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Disadvantaged Communities Reporter, which allows you to explore disadvantaged communities (DAC) that have been identified as part of DOE’s Justice40 program.
- Collaborating with public housing authorities of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a way to target communities that could benefit from solar. Renewable Energy Toolkit for Affordable Housing – This toolkit, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Community Planning and Development, provides a step-by-step guide to integrating renewable energy into affordable housing projects in a way that is efficient, cost-effective, and impactful.
- Innovative referral strategies can boost participation in low-income rooftop solar programs.
- Program participants can also be identified though state Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), state Weatherization Assistance Programs (WAP)
- This guide provides tips for increasing the number of multifamily residents subscribing to programs that issue direct bill credits: Expanding Access to Community Solar for Affordable Housing Residents: Three Tips for Resident Engagement
- The purpose of the Community-Owned Community Solar Opportunities and Challenges report is to identify key concepts, lessons, and questions through an examination of existing community-owned community solar projects.
- This slide deck from NREL titled Community Solar: Overview, ownership models, and the benefits of locally-owned community solar projects provides an overview of community solar. It introduces community solar programs and their benefits, explains different ownership models, and ends with the best practices to keep in mind when starting a locally-owned community solar project.
- Inclusive Solar Finance Framework identifies barriers that contribute to limiting access to low-income and/or low credit score customers for solar products, while proposing potential market and policy interventions that will expand opportunities for target customers.
- This report from the National Association of State Energy Official titled Community Solar Consolidated Billing Review Of State Requirements, Policies, And Key Considerations aims to assist state policymakers, regulators, and program implementers involved in community solar policy development. It includes an overview of billing models, with a focus on the emerging area of consolidated billing.
- This resource from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) titled On-Bill Financing for Public Power provides information, case studies, resources and an interactive map of on-bill finance programs.
- Marketing, Outreach and Engagement
- Community Outreach and Solar Equity: A Guide for States on Collaborating with Community-Based Organizations
- Disadvantaged Communities – Single-Family Solar Homes Program: 2020 Marketing, Education and Outreach Plan – The Single-Family Solar Homes program is administered by the nonprofit GRID Alternatives in California. This document describes the marketing and outreach plan for the program, identifying target audiences and approaches.
- Vote Solar Access & Equity Advisory Committee produced Recommendations on Automatic Qualification and Community Engagement for State Policy-Enabled Low- and Moderate-Income Community Solar Programs
- Trust Building
- Consumer Protection
- This guidebook from the Clean Energy States Alliance provides information about Consumer Protection for Community Solar: A Guide for States. Click here to watch the associated webinar.
- This Consumer Protection Primer from the Solar Energy Industries Association provides an indepth look at various protections states have in place to ensure solar customers are not taken advantage of.
- New Mexico Community Solar Program Best Practices: Consumer Protection & Subscriber Management provides best practices and recommendations to subscriber organizations regarding consumer protection and subcontractor management.
- Workforce Development
- Advancing Inclusion Through Clean Energy intends to help energy-sector professionals, state and local policymakers, regional education and training sector leaders, and community organizations get a clearer look at the nature, needs, and opportunities associated with the future clean energy workforce.
- With the goal of defining actionable solutions to shared workforce challenges, Key Recommendations: Cultivating a Diverse and Skilled Talent Pipeline for the Equitable Transition identifies and shares challenges, best practices, resources, and key information through structured, results-oriented meetings.
- The Diversity Best Practices Guide for the Solar Industry is designed to inform readers on best practices for industry diversity and provides some tools to develop a more active effort on diversity and inclusion not just in the solar industry, but across the entire energy economy. Improving diversity is not just the right thing to do, it’s also a smart business decision.
- Community Input
- The Community Energy Planning: Best Practices and Lessons Learned in NREL’s Work with Communities is a best practices document based on interviews with seasoned NREL practitioners and a literature review on equitable community energy planning. Findings include five best practices for community energy planning that NREL practitioners and others can apply to strengthen their impact.
- Let Communities Choose Clean Energy Sovereignty in Highland Park, Michigan is a case study on empowering local communities to choose clean energy and the key role in overall decarbonization efforts in Highland Park, in Michigan, and across the country.
Building an Equity-Centered Program
Building an equity-centered solar program requires prioritizing inclusivity, equity, and social justice. Programs aimed at serving BIPOC and low-wealth communities require trust building; they must be developed in consultation with those communities and aimed towards addressing historical disparities. Traditionally, BIPOC and low-wealth communities have been systemically excluded from decisions around their energy, which leads to high energy burdens, adverse health outcomes, and fewer opportunities to build wealth and obtain jobs. A successful clean energy transition must include and center those communities while accounting for all their needs.
- 3 Hurdles to Racial Justice in Clean Energy – and 3 Ways U.S. Cities Can Overcome Them
- Equitable Clean Energy Planning – This series of webinars from the World Resources Institute guides local government staff through equity-centered, scenario-based planning for community-level energy policy.
- The NAACP’s Just Policies Compendium outlines how to make sure energy policies protect communities and provides them equitable access to economic opportunities like jobs.
- Energy Transitions Playbook – This guidebook from DOE’s Energy Transitions Initiative provides a seven-phase process for a community-driven transition to a resilient, clean energy system. The Playbook includes worksheets, templates, and case studies to assist communities with planning at any phase. This resource also includes a stakeholder matrix and stakeholder mapping template to help identify and categorize stakeholders for creating an advisory committee or task force.
- Equitable Community Solar: Policy and Program Guidance for Community Solar Programs that Promote Racial and Economic Equity white paper provides guidance for creating community solar programs that promote racial and economic equity.
- Check out this report An Inclusive Energy Transition: Expanding LowIncome Access to Clean Energy Programs for reasons why states should develop and fund comprehensive programs that ensure low-income households can participate in and benefit from the clean energy transition.
- The People’s Justice40+ Community Benefit Playbook offers frontline groups and community organizations guidance for developing a People’s Justice40+ Community Benefit Plan (CBP). The goal is to ensure that federal infrastructure and climate investments significantly benefit the communities that need them most.
State Examples of Programs
One of the best ways to develop a program targeting BIPOC and low-wealth communities is to see examples of successful programs. Below is a list of programs divided by single-family, multifamily, community solar and nonprofits. Each of these programs has elements of best practices and program design that when combined could create an excellent program. Note this is not a comprehensive list.
- Single-Family Programs
- California: Disadvantaged Communities – Single-family Solar Homes (DAC-SASH)
- Colorado: CEO Weatherization Assistance Program
- Connecticut: Solar for All
- Multifamily Program
- Community Solar Program
- Hawaii: Green Energy Market Securitization On-Bill Repayment Program (this program also serves renters, low-income households, nonprofits and other Hawaiian Electric ratepayers)
- Oregon: Solar Innovation Grants (this case study also includes information on other state programs)
Where to Get Assistance on Applying to the EPA’s Solar for All Program
Applying for the Solar for All grant can be a tricky process to navigate, especially if you do not have the technical expertise to approach grant applications or the policy knowledge on nuanced aspects of equitable program design. There are some resources out there to support you, and we encourage you to take advantage of them. Below are a few ways you can do so:
- The Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) is helping states prepare to apply to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for funding under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund’s Solar for All Program. CESA has been convening discussions among state officials to allow them to share ideas and questions about this funding opportunity. CESA is also producing model program templates that states can adapt and use as starting points for developing their Solar for All program concepts to submit to EPA.
- Environmental Justice Thriving Technical Assistance Centers – these are technical assistance (TA) centers that have received $177 million from the EPA to help support disadvantaged communities to address and remove barriers to clean energy access. These centers will provide training and other assistance to build capacity for navigating federal grant application systems, writing strong grant proposals, and effectively managing grant funding. In the various regions, there are liaisons and regional coordinators that are available to help and provide assistance with grant applications.
- The Department of Energy’s Community Power Accelerator connects developers, investors, philanthropists, and community-based organizations to create an ecosystem of partners that work together to get more equity-focused community solar projects financed and deployed.
- White House Inflation Reduction Act Guidebook
- White House Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Guidebook
- ACEEE’s Leading with Equity Initiative
- Solar Demographics Trends and Analysis
- Low-Income Energy Affordability Data (LEAD) Tool – This DOE tool provides estimated low-income household energy data at state and local levels. Data include energy burdens, housing units, and income levels.
- Solar for All main page
- List of States that submitted a Notice of Intent
- The Climate Portal: The Climate Program Portal is a resource for organizations and public agencies tracking federal investments in climate initiatives. The Portal tracks investments from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).