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Beginning with a pilot program that debuted this week, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced new initiatives to bring solar energy to lower-income families, reduce bills and expand the clean energy sector’s job offerings.
In five states and Washington, D.C., the Community Solar Subscription Platform pilot will support the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and other low-income assistance programs by connecting them to community solar projects with verified cost savings. LIHEAP and similar programs offer extra means for eligible households to tackle their heating and cooling energy costs, pay down bills, navigate energy crises, and pursue both weatherization and energy-related home repairs.
While solar energy is one of those items regarded as helpful in lowering electricity bills, DOE recognized that many have been unable to access or afford its deployment. This is the advantage of community solar, which would allow multiple customers to benefit from a shared solar energy system instead of purchasing rooftop solar panels.
“Every American community, especially those that face disproportionately higher energy burdens, deserves the economic and health benefits that come with increased access to affordable clean energy,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said. “This is why DOE is working across the federal government to open up community solar that will rapidly lower electricity bills for households that need it most and create good paying jobs in every pocket of America.”
The Community Solar Subscription Platform will initially target Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, D.C. According to DOE, participants in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and New Mexico could save 20 percent on their electricity bills, while those in Washington, D.C., and Colorado could save as much as 50 percent. That could equal as much as $400 million in savings in New York alone.
“When we as a nation work together toward our climate goals, we have the ability to move collectively toward a better, greener, and more sustainable future,” Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “We know that the implementation of community solar is critical to creating a future that promotes healthy, renewable, and sustainable living, and we are pleased to join the effort. By working with property owners, especially of multifamily affordable homes, and local businesses, we can ensure that our future is a clean and resilient one.”
By prioritizing working with states that already have programs to support low-income community solar development, DOE hopes to power as many as 5 million homes and raise subscriber savings on energy bills. Feedback on the program will be collected from participating states and through a Request for Information running until Aug. 31.
Separately, the DOE also gained $10 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to pump into solar energy careers for underserved communities. Through an investment from the Biden administration, these funds will back projects supporting new workforce programs to recruit, train and retain an inclusive solar workforce. At the same time, DOE will encourage the development of equitable community solar projects and programs through the Sunny Awards for Equitable Community Solar – a rewards program offering up to $10,000 per finalist for best practices in community solar that increase equitable access and guarantee benefits for subscribers and their communities.