Southeast low-income community solar strategies outlined in report

A new report offers strategies for public power utilities and cooperatives to provide community solar to low-to-moderate income households in the Southeast part of the U.S. The report was released by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC).

The report, “The Community Solar Opportunities for Low to Moderate Income Households in the Southeast,” is the result of a workshop, which brought together public power and electric cooperative utilities, government, solar developers, low income and clean energy advocates to discuss ways to benefit low income households through utility lead community solar projects, said NCCETC.

“The Southeast has some of the country’s highest poverty rates, while two states, North Carolina and Georgia, also rank among the top ten for solar. This underscores the importance and opportunity for cooperative and municipal utilities to consider ways to assist low income residents through community solar,” said Anne Tazewell, Special Projects Manager at the NCCETC, one of the report’s authors.

The report finds several ways utilities can work with developers, investors and advocacy groups to expand community solar opportunities to reduce utility bills for households facing financial hardship. Specifically, to reduce upfront costs in order to support low-income community solar access, the report finds the following can be considered:

  • Solar developers and utilities may voluntarily agree to lower power purchase agreement rates in order to reduce community solar participation costs for low-income residents.
  • The utility can elect to credit customers for the output of the community solar project at the retail rate or the value of solar, a rate that can include demand charges and other considerations
  • A two-tiered subscription structure, whereby participants voluntarily agree to pay more for community solar shares, may be utilized to increase benefits for lower income participants.
  • Voluntary contributions, where utility customers donate monthly through bill roundup programs or other utility lead charitable giving opportunities, can be expanded to include reductions for community solar subscriptions.
  • Utility shut off funds and federal assistance programs, such as housing and low-income home energy assistance programs, can be examined for opportunities to provide financial support for low-income household community solar.
  • Electric cooperatives and public power utilities can consider group bids, developing larger solar projects, and donating project land to reduce costs.
  • Access to inexpensive capital, as well as a willingness on the parts of both the developer and the utility to have a lower internal rate of return, can support lower cost solar access for low-income households.
  • Leveraging additional value streams from battery storage systems can be considered to make the project more cost effective.

Achyut Shrestha, NCCETC’s project manager for the Community Solar for the Southeast said, “For low income subscribers, meaningful savings on monthly utility bills is important. One of the most promising opportunities to reduce community solar development costs is for utilities to consider the value of solar and storage to offset high peak demand rates.” He also noted that, “Incorporating a ‘value of solar approach’ which monetizes different values provided by solar facilities can be an important step in generating participant savings.”

North Carolina’s Roanoke Electric Cooperative is utilizing the ideas discussed in the workshop and report to launch a new community solar subscription model that will provide direct monthly savings to low income subscribers.  “We are pleased with Roanoke’s leadership and look forward to working with other utilities and stakeholders across the Southeast interested in helping those need to reduce their utility bills with community solar,” said Steve Kalland, NCCETC Executive Director, upon the release of the report.

The report is available here.