On March 14th and 15th, the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association held the BuildingEnergy Boston Conference. Among the attendees were building professionals, educators, homeowners, students, and energy & environment professionals. One of the presentations given at BuildingEnergy Boston was titled Solar Access for the Underserved. Three different speakers addressed the problem of accessibility of solar, and provided specific solutions to this problem.
Emily Basham was the first to present. She is a Senior Associate at the Connecticut Green Bank. The Connecticut Green Bank (CGB) helps the state meet clean energy goals by leveraging limited public funds to attract private capital into the clean energy market. The Connecticut Green Bank has mobilized over $1B of investments into Connecticut’s clean energy economy and deployed over 285 Megawatts of renewable energy. One of the main goals of the Connecticut Green Bank is to reduce energy burdens for the low to moderate income (LMI) households. A household’s energy burden is the percentage of gross household income spent on energy costs. Connecticut has one of the highest electricity rates in the country, so reducing the energy burden can be very helpful to residents. In order to combat this energy burden, the CGB has partnered with PosiGen Solar Solutions and SunRun to provide both lease and financing options for low to moderate income households, so that they can access the benefits of solar energy. The case study tracking these programs has shown success and allowed them to move forward.
Andrew Breiter-Wu, President of Breiter Planet Properties, spoke next. Breiter Planet Properties is a socially conscious energy-consulting firm focused on developing energy solutions for property owners and energy ratepayers. In his presentation, Breiter-Wu explained how the solar industry has historically focused on single-family households with high credit scores, and roofs that receive plenty of sunlight. This is a very specific focus, leaving out renters and those with shady or unqualified roofs. Black and Hispanic Americans, as well as younger Americans (25-30) are most likely to rent their living spaces, excluding them from the aim of the solar industry. Breiter-Wu cites that as of 2016, there were over 100 million renters in the United States, a market ripe to be tapped into.
The solution that Breiter Planet Properties presents to this problem is Community Solar, an option that breaks down the barriers of inclusion into the solar market. Sourcing energy from local community solar gardens allows bill payers to decrease their monthly electric bill by an estimated 10 percent. Renters, and homeowners who do not qualify for rooftop solar can take advantage of renewable energy through community solar. In Massachusetts, the SMART (Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target) Program allows for solar gardens to produce Alternative On-Bill Credits to be allocated to offsite electricity consumers. Ratepayers opt in to a community solar garden and see savings via credits on their electric bills.
Andrew Breiter-Wu also went into detail about the opportunity for property owners to profitably support the development of Community Solar projects. Landowners can lease their land to Breiter Planet Properties and allow them to install a solar farm on their property, and receive revenue through a twenty year land lease. The electricity produced by the solar system would then be sold to homeowners, renters, small businesses, non-profits, and industrial facilities. This goes on to support the local economy through the development, operation and maintenance of the solar farm. For the property owners that own commercial and industrial buildings,they can lease their roof space to Breiter Planet Properties to develop and install a community solar rooftop garden. The roof lease is a popular option in urban settings, since it allows property owners to get the most out of their real estate, have their roof replaced at no out-of-pocket expense to them, and it allows tenants to tap into the benefits of solar energy.
Kelsey Read was the last person to speak, representing the Mass Clean Energy Center. The MassCEC has a solar loan program that Kelsey presented to an attentive crowd. For most homeowners, owning a solar system is the best financial option, and the MassCEC solar loan program allows those that may have a harder time qualifying for a traditional solar loan to qualify. This Solar Loan program was designed to expand financing options and increase access to solar for income-qualified residents. There are three loan support incentives provided by MassCEC that go hand in hand with this program. These incentives include: income based loan support, interest rate buy down, and loan loss reserve. The results of the solar loan program have been very positive and encouraging. There has been over $150M loans issued since the program began, and over 74% of this was directed to low to moderate income households. The MassCEC solar loan program has been successful in helping residents across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who have previously been underserved by the solar industry, to own a revenue generating solar asset.
At the end of the day, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to fully bring solar access to the underserved. Fortunately, there are companies like Breiter Planet Properties, the Connecticut Green Bank, and the MassCEC, all working together to bring solar access to all!
Emily Basham: 00:00-17:04
Andrew Breiter-Wu: 17:06-32:10
Kelsey Read: 32:12-40:58