Consensus Recommendations on How to Catalyze Low-Income Solar in DC

Author:  Ronen, Amit | Schoolman, Anya
Organization:  GW Solar Institute | DC SUN
Report Date: 
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This whitepaper summarizes recommendations from the Expanding Low-Income Solar in DC Roundtable, hosted by the GW Solar Institute and DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN) on April 9, 2014. Extensive conversations among roughly 70 key stakeholders in the low-income housing, solar, finance, and government sectors revealed that the necessary leadership, consensus, and resources are available to launch a groundbreaking low-income solar initiative in the District. 

The Roundtable recommends that the city pursue a direct dollar-per-watt rebate program that incentivizes low-income participation and community solar projects, combined with a credit enhancement program that unlocks needed capital.

Key Take-Aways: 
  • The Roundtable succeeded in promoting collaboration amongst various District sectors and interests, particularly between low-income housing and solar stakeholders, as well as laying the groundwork for the District to participate in an ambitious pilot program with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
  • The Roundtable also facilitated clear recommendations for the District Department on the Environment (DDOE) on how best to structure future incentive programs for low-income solar.
  • Roundtable participants concluded that a multipronged approach is needed to tackle the market barriers to low-income solar deployment. Specifically, they recommend a direct dollar-per-watt rebate program that incentivizes low-income participation and community solar projects combined with a loan guarantee program that unlocks the necessary capital for these projects. 
  • This multifaceted approach directly supports DDOE goals to stretch limited government dollars the farthest, provide the greatest certainty and opportunity for local solar installers, help reduce the energy burden on DC’s most vulnerable citizens, and drive the most economic development by permanently creating wealth in lower income District communities. 
Key Facts: 
  • While solar energy has become increasingly affordable and residential solar installations are booming, most panel installations occur in higher income neighborhoods.
  • Less affluent District residents are prevented from reaping the benefits of solar energy due to multiple market barriers such as renting, living in a multi-family building, lower credit scores, or having utility bills covered through government support programs.
  • The District’s recent enactment of forward-leaning legislation, such as the Community Renewables Energy Act 2013, creates new opportunities for solar developers and community leaders to improve energy affordability and accessibility. 
  • Innovative solar programs spurred by similar reforms in other states, like California’s Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program, have enabled families to reduce their monthly electricity bills by an average of around 80%, savings that will continue for the life of these solar systems (at least 25 years or more).