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Solutions for Overcoming Barriers to Solar Adoption in Communities of Concern

As California, America’s leading solar state, continues to evaluate its future solar agreement (net energy metering), it is important to acknowledge the current gaps in adoption of clean energy technologies. Although rooftop solar has become increasingly accessible to low-and-moderate income households in recent years due to a decrease in solar prices, increased financing options and an attractive current solar agreement known as net energy metering 2.0, there are still a number of barriers to adoption. The state has said that California needs to triple the amount of rooftop solar in order to meet our climate goals and that will not happen if we don’t include solutions for our communities of concern. 

1. Overcoming the barrier of homeownership through on-bill financing, community solar and incentives for multifamily solar

The primary barrier to the adoption of solar is home ownership and in order to overcome this barrier, we need to be creative and rethink the traditional financing structures for solar. Thankfully, other states have already addressed this barrier successfully and have developed innovative financing structures that allow renters to receive the benefits of solar. The first strategy is on-bill solar financing which ties re-payment for solar and energy efficiency upgrades to the meter, rather than an individual. Hawaii has successfully created the Green Money $aver program (GEM$), which is the first on-bill financing program that requires no upfront cost or credit check which are two other large barriers to adoption. Renters will enjoy an estimated 10 percent reduction on their utility bill at no upfront cost to the tenant or property owner and the credit can be transferred to the next renter. Another innovative way to overcome the barrier of homeownership is community solar, where renters can subscribe to a portion of a community solar project which will then credit against their utility bill, saving them money and letting them get their energy from clean sources. While California has excelled as the nation's number one solar state, we have fallen behind in our ability to enact legislation that supports community solar projects. Finally, the market for multifamily solar, which makes up about 30 percent of California’s housing market, cannot be ignored. Previous statewide incentive programs played a huge role in rapidly accelerating adoption for single family homes but the adoption for multifamily hasn’t had as much success. The Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (“SOMAH”) program is addressing this barrier by providing incentives for multifamily affordable housing that can cover the entire cost of the system. The program is funded through state cap-and-trade funds and has a billion dollar budget over the next 10 years. 

2. Addressing cost barriers through upfront incentive payments 

Another large barrier is high upfront costs for rooftop solar for cash purchases or for portions of state rebates and the 26 percent federal tax credit. California has put billions of dollars behind incentive programs that offer rebates for going solar, however rebates are usually distributed once the system has been installed and interconnected and usually after a lengthy application process, leaving homeowners and property owners to pay the costs for installation and permitting before they ever see a rebate check. Offering upfront payments for incentive programs can eliminate this barrier altogether. Since incentive programs for single family homeowners are beginning to sunset, it's important to also consider no upfront cost financing to address this barrier moving forward, especially for the multifamily sector. Jurisdictions could offer bridge financing programs to address this barrier, which some philanthropists and foundations are currently working to address on a smaller level. 

3. Mending relationships and lack of trust in communities of concern through partnerships with community based organizations

While many solar companies have good intentions, the solar industry has created a barrier because of the lack of trust they have created in communities of concern, which has been plagued by misinformation about solar programs and issues with some less than reputable contractors. Those few bad apples have given the industry a black eye and it’s hurting solar adoption in communities that could benefit from solar the most. It is extremely important that the solar and storage industry, along with program administrators, begin to repair the relationship with communities of concern by partnering with trusted community voices who can provide reliable information to community members in ways that are culturally appropriate and in native languages. The states’ Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing program has done a good job recognizing this barrier and contracts with local and statewide community-based organizations to conduct education and outreach to property owners and tenants to provide information about the program and overall benefits of clean energy. Partnering with trusted community partners, in addition to offering solar marketing materials, proposals and contracts in various languages, is a starting point to start building trust. 

4. Protecting existing solar customers from evolving solar policies

Finally, expanding access to rooftop solar will not happen when statewide legislation and changing statewide solar policies continue to threaten the investment that people have made or are considering making. Fighting for strong policies for new solar customers and ensuring that solar continues to grow is one fight, but when policies threaten the contracts that people have signed and been promised, it creates a distrust in the government and cities who have pushed for people to go solar and solar companies who promised customers their contracts would last for 20 years. The investor-owned utilities are getting bolder in their attempts to kill rooftop solar, weaponizing communities of concern in their attempts to kill rooftop solar, forcing utility-scale solar to be a main solution to meeting 100 percent clean energy targets, which would increase rates for all ratepayers. 

Overcoming the barriers to solar adoption won’t be easy, but they are necessary in order to ensure that we are meeting local climate action plans and statewide climate goals. Hammond Climate Solutions along with partners at Protect Our Communities Foundation, Brevian Energy and the San Diego Urban Sustainability Coalition, recently submitted a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Grant with a proposal for a program that will expand solar in communities of concern using tactics highlighted earlier in this blog. Communities of concern have long been left out of the clean energy transition and its time to invest resources to accelerate the adoption of clean energy technologies for communities who suffer disportionately from the effects of climate injustices and the climate crisis and are also paying a disproportionate amount of income towards skyrocketing energy bills. Learn more about the current attacks on solar and how you can help defend rooftop solar and expand equitable access to all ratepayers.