Pilot program aims to deliver community solar benefits to low-income people

Students from Leech Lake Tribal College in Minnesota helped to install a community solar array for low-income communities. Photo credit to Jason Edens

The U.S. Departments of Energy and Health & Human Services said that five states and Washington, D.C. will support the pilot of a Community Solar Subscription Platform. The program will connect families to solar energy, and lower their electricity bills via the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. 

DOE also earmarked $10 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to fund solar energy careers in underserved areas. 

The Community Solar Subscription Platform was created to connect community projects with verified cost savings to households who are eligible for government-run assistance programs, such as LIHEAP. 

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LIHEAP offers assistance to eligible households for their heating and cooling energy costs as well as bill payment assistance, energy crisis assistance and weatherization. Multiple customers can benefit from a shared solar energy source by using community solar. DOE’s community solar target is to power 5 million homes and provide 20% savings on a subscriber’s energy bills, up from 10% on average today.  

The pilot will be launched in Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Washington, D.C. These states will provide feedback and coordination as well as data to help test the platform’s operability, security, performance, and operability.

DOE stated that it prefers to work with states that have programs to support low-income solar development. Participants are expected to save 20% on their electricity bills if they are successful. This could be in Illinois, New Jersey and New York as well as New Mexico and Washington, D.C., and Colorado.

The Energy Department’s National Community Solar Partnership, HHS, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, National Energy Assistance Directors Association, and the National Association of State Energy Officials are collaborating on the Community Solar Subscription Platform. 

DOE also issued a Request for Information in order to receive feedback from community-based organizations and community solar subscription managers, developers, state and local governments and researchers, as well as other organizations involved in LIHEAP implementation. August 31 is the deadline for responses. 

DOE also directed $10 million for its Advancing Equity by Workforce Partnerships program. This initiative will fund projects that support new workforce programs that link employers, training providers, labor unions, and labor unions in order to support the solar industry’s ability to recruit, train and retain an inclusive workforce. These programs will be sector-based, demand-driven, worker-centric, and sector-based. They will use existing workforce programs and resources, and be sustainable and repeatable. 

DOE also announced that it was launching the Sunny Awards for Equitable Community Solar. The award would recognize community solar best practices that increase equity and ensure benefits go directly to subscribers and their local communities. A Sunny Award and $10,000 in prizes can be won by up to five finalists. More information can be found here.