One of the goals that the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has in its agenda is to expand solar to low-income communities across the United States. According, to the SEIA Solar has been used mostly by large corporations, and by well off people, and hasn’t benefited poorer communities at the same rate!
Their goal and their expansion of Solar has not been easy, and has led to a lot of failures and some success! A success story in Colorado is being highlighted as an example that is going to be considered for replication to be used by the SEIA on their future ventures.
The Denver Housing Authority (DHA) in Denver has been working for several years to make solar available to the low-income community that it works to serve. (the real name of the organization is the Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver, but it is never referred to that way anymore).
The project of trying to provide solar to low-income neighborhoods hasn’t been easy according to Chris Jedd, Portfolio Energy Manager for the DHA, but by asking a couple of different questions about how to best expand solar, they were eventually able to find the solution to their particular problem.
The two questions: “What type of housing are they in (private or subsidized, and if subsidized, how)? And who pays for the energy and how is it metered?”
To understand who pays for the energy and the housing for low income individuals, we have to go through the different public programs that were made for the poorer communities in and around Denver, which includes public housing, funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Section 8 is another HUD subsidized program that is designed to provide temporary housing to poorer communities that can’t afford it. Finally, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit is a federal tax credit program designed to finance for low-income individuals.
Since HUD pays the bills, directly or indirectly for a large portion of subsidized housing, there ends up being little if any incentive for any of the other local housing authorities to take the risk of investing in solar technologies that are predicted to bring down future energy costs.
This means that HUD didn’t have the money behind it in order to fund the project of expanding solar to low-income Americans.
The Successful Solution that leads to the Success of Denver’s Expansion of Solar in Low Income Communities:
In order to overcome the lack of investments from third-party investors, the DHA entered a power purchase agreement (PPA) focused only towards public housing, which helped to simplify the subsidy structure. The PPA is owned and financed by a third-party provider that sells electricity to the DHA. The DHA then uses the energy to conduct its projects goal of providing solar to low-income individuals.
The project is expected to power approximately 700 low-income units across Xcel Energy’s Denver territory that also includes DHA properties. Xcel’s programs help the DHA allocate energy from the DHA community Solar program to the various low-income properties.
The impact of this one successful example is helping others across the country expand solar in their communities. The DHA is collaborating with Xcel Energy to expand these opportunities to other cities and states where their company is in control of the energy market.