Community Solar for Community Action--A New Way to Provide Energy Assistance
Over 33 million American households struggle with energy poverty, forcing them to make difficult choices between home energy and other basic necessities, such as health care, housing, or adequate nutrition. According to a recent Vermont Law School study, energy poverty affects 1 in 5 Vermonters. Currently, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which in Vermont includes supplemental state funding and is administered by the Department of Children and Families, offers seasonal fuel assistance and temporary emergency relief to low-income residents. However, a stopgap is not a solution, and energy assistance costs billions of dollars annually. Furthermore, fuel assistance for electricity is currently delivered directly to utilities, leaving low-income households with little choice in where their energy comes from. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), low- and moderate-income households make up 40% of the nation’s population but less than 5% of all solar power customers. A lack of resources and viable financing options to make upfront investments in solar create barriers that prevent this population from accessing renewable energy opportunities.
SEVCA will build, own, and manage an innovative community solar installation that will use virtual net metering credits to deliver solar energy assistance directly to Windham and Windsor County households with high energy burdens (see Project Details, below). This project, Community Solar for Community Action, will demonstrate a new, nationally replicable model of energy assistance, enabling low-income households to meet their energy needs while supporting the development of renewable energy resources.
SEVCA has partnered with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL), a Minnesota-based nonprofit, which is helping to develop the project as part of the Solar in Your Community Challenge, a national competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This $5 million contest aims to stimulate the development of “innovative and replicable community-based solar business models and programs that will bring solar to underserved communities.” (https://www.solarinyourcommunity.org/)
In addition to grants raised by RREAL, SEVCA was awarded a grant of $111,000 from the Windham Regional Commission’s Renewable Energy Grant Program to help make the project a reality. SEVCA can only utilize the full amount of this grant if we raise enough matching funds to support the project! Some donors have already stepped up to contribute this match and ensure the development of a renewable energy source that will provide energy assistance to low income Vermonters for at least the next 25 years.
We are looking for more donors to help out! If you support more sustainable communities and want to help ensure that area low-income households can meet their basic needs for heat and electricity in a more environmentally-friendly way, we’d love to hear from you!
The project will consist of a 109.7 kW ground- and roof-mounted solar array sited on SEVCA’s property in Westminster, VT. Approximately 50 area low-income households with high energy burdens will become subscribers to the project, and receive virtual net metering credits as a form of energy assistance. The system is projected to produce 119,500 kWh per year (at a current value of $23,200) and save approximately 88.9 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.*
Project goals include:
Reducing the energy burden of low-income households through applying virtual net metering credits on their electricity bills, based on the energy generated by the solar array.
Enabling low-income households to support and benefit from the development of renewable sources of energy, thereby participating in the transition to a more sustainable energy economy.
Reducing participating low-income households’ dependence on energy assistance by decreasing and stabilizing their energy costs.
Contributing to reducing and stabilizing SEVCA’s energy costs for the operation of its main office in Westminster, thereby freeing up scarce resources to use for services.
Community Solar for Community Action aims to showcase a fiscally responsible and environmentally appropriate alternative to conventional, fossil-fuel-based energy assistance. Vermont has a favorable regulatory environment for community solar projects, a population that is highly supportive of renewable energy, and a significant need for energy assistance among low-income households, making this a great testing-ground for this model. The project aims to chart a new future towards a more sustainable low-income solar energy assistance program nationally.
Your contribution will help SEVCA better serve Vermonters and the environment!
* EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator: https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator