Via San Francisco Chronicle
The spread of residential solar power has been largely a middle-class affair.
Despite plunging prices in the last seven years, rooftop solar arrays remain an expensive home improvement, costing $15,000 or more. A 2013 study by the liberal research and advocacy group Center for American Progress found that 67 percent of solar arrays installed in California went to ZIP codes with a median household income between $40,000 and $90,000. Wealthier areas accounted for almost all of the rest.
A new California program, however, aims to make solar power available to lower-income families — using money from the state’s fight against global warming.
Run by Oakland nonprofit Grid Alternatives, the effort will install home solar arrays in disadvantaged neighborhoods, using $14.7 million raised through California’s cap-and-trade system for reining in greenhouse gas emissions. That system forces factories, power plants, oil refineries and other large businesses to buy credits for every ton of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases they pump into the atmosphere.
Kianté London used the program to put panels on his three-bedroom North Richmond home, which he shares with two sons and a daughter.
“It helps me and my family a great deal to have low-cost energy, because these energy prices are really expensive,” said London, 46, whose solar array was installed this week. “And I wanted to do my part. It’s clean, green energy.”
London had wanted a solar array for years, but couldn’t afford it on his income as a merchant seaman — roughly $70,000 per year. Even leasing programs offered by such companies as SolarCity and Sunrun were too expensive, he said. The new program, in contrast, paid the entire up-front cost of his array.
“These systems are saving families money every month for food, for clothes, for medical expenses,” said Julian Foley, communications director for Grid Alternatives.
The organization specializes in solar and energy-efficiency projects in working-class communities. Using the cap-and-trade money, Grid Alternatives plans to install arrays on more than 1,600 California homes by the end of 2016. It taps job-training programs to provide the installers and relies on donated equipment from such Bay Area solar companies as SunEdison, SunPower and Enphase.
Most homeowners are asked to make small contributions for the installation, such as agreeing to feed the crew installing the array, or agreeing to help with the installation themselves. Otherwise, it’s free.
The arrays will save most homeowners $400 to $1,000 per year on electricity, depending on where they live.
California’s cap-and-trade system places a slowly declining limit on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that companies can produce each year and sells emission credits at quarterly auctions, with most of the proceeds flowing to the state. So far, California has raised $1.6 billion. Companies can also sell the credits, called allowances, to each other.
A 2012 state law requires that 10 percent of the money raised be spent on projects that cut greenhouse gases or improve the environment in disadvantaged communities, defined as cities or neighborhoods with low incomes, high unemployment and significant pollution.
Hence the new solar program. To qualify, applicants must live in a neighborhood designated as disadvantaged by the state. They must own their homes and make no more than 80 percent of their community’s median household income.
“These investments will bring energy savings, they’ll bring quality jobs, and they’ll also bring environmental benefits where they’re needed the most,” said state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, who wrote the 2012 law.