Since the beginning of the push towards solar energy, the price of solar panels and of installation has remained steadfastly high. While the costs are certainly coming down, and tax credits and crowdfunding grants have helped pave the way for ever more business owners and homeowners to afford solar energy, there has been no major headway made in creating solar energy products that are affordable for low-income families and communities.
Within the last five years, the cost of manufacturing solar energy panels has dropped tremendously, which has allowed the government to begin implementing measures that put solar energy into low-income areas that wouldn’t otherwise be able to access them. In addition to relieving the strain of carbon dioxide emissions on the climate, lawmakers also see that these measures could help boost the economy.
Studies show that low-income families spend as much as 20% of their income on energy bills, putting a strain on finances that results in less spending power. Additionally, federal funding is used towards nearly 6 billion dollars annually as part of the energy assistance program. Solar energy options for low-income areas could help reduce the cost for tax payers over the long-term.
<h2>Massachusetts Policy Leads the Way</h2>
In 2015, the legislature in Massachusetts began discussing new solar policies that would increase compensation for solar installations. This came on the heels of a proposal to decrease tax credits and other compensation, which the officials were asked to reject by a letter from over 90 community leaders in Boston. A cap on the solar program earlier in the year had prevented many families and organizations from affording a solar energy upgrade.
As a result of those discussions, the Massachusetts Senate voted to lift the caps starting July 2016, in hopes that it will enable many more communities and families to install solar energy features. Since 2006, it is estimated that solar energy usage in the state has grown by 200%, including enough solar energy being generated throughout the state to power up to 50,000 private residences.
Recently, California has also voted to extend benefits for families and organizations regarding solar energy. The SASH Program states that at least 10% of the California Solar Initiative is to be used for assisting low-income households with the installation of solar energy. While the program was slated for expiration in 2015, the state legislature voted at the end of the year to maintain the program until at least 2021.
This program allows low-income homeowners to access education and grants to help them access solar energy. It also utilizes volunteer forces that help develop low-income communities with solar energy and other green energy measures.
In Washington DC, the Community Solar Program is in place to help those who rent or live in apartments access solar power. This incentive was announced in 2015, and is planned for expansion across the entire District in the future. So far, nearly 1.4 million dollars have gone towards the program, helping install over 130 solar features within the year 2015 alone.