Easing Vermont’s Utility Poverty Crisis with Shared Solar Gardens

The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) and Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA) are teaming up to build a community solar garden that will serve 50 lower income households in the state of Vermont.


RREAL, a panel unit installation company, and SEVCA, a non-profit assistance provider, are two companies that are passionate about helping low-income families pay their utility bills more easily. Leaders at both companies are eager to see changes made to Vermont’s utility problem in the coming years with the help of solar power. The solutions offered by solar-powered community gardens, in particular, may be the answer to multiple problems. 

Community solar gardens have become increasingly popular in recent years, due to their flexibility and versatility. Solar gardens work by offering solar energy utility to multiple homes out of one centralized location. By connecting various homes to one primary community solar garden, it omits the need for families to individually purchase and install solar panels. For low-income families, especially, installing solar panels may not be an option. The community solar gardens take care of this problem and share the solar energy among multiple homes. 

Alleviating Energy and Utility Burdens 

According to Rural Renewable Energy Alliance director and creator Jason Edens, community solar gardens are the most easily integrated form of solar technology to combine with utility assistance programs. Having received federal low-income utility assistance himself in the past, creating RREAL was important to Edens. He experienced first-hand the difficulty of not being able to pay his energy bills and it inspired him to create RREAL. Originating in Minnesota, Edens started RREAL in his garage, along with several other dedicated volunteers. Alleviating energy burdens for others has always been important to him and teaming up with SVECA is just another way he and his team can help lower-income households through the use of solar energy. 

Steve Geller, Southeastern Vermont Community Action’s Executive Director, knows full well the extent of the impact that Vermont’s energy crisis has had on residents. For over 14 years, he has been working with SEVCA to implement programs that ultimately will benefit residents struggling to pay their utility and energy bills. Teaming up with RREAL to build the solar community garden is not SEVCA’s first attempt at using solar energy to help Vermont residents, but it is the most promising.  

Vermont’s Fuel Poverty Problem 

Currently, the fuel poverty levels in Vermont are quite high. One-fifth of Vermont residents spend more the 10 percent of their monthly income on utilities, thus experiencing what is known as fuel poverty. LIHEAP, or the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, helped 26,557 households in Vermont alone to pay their monthly utilities from 2016 to 2017, totaling nearly 20 million dollars. Annually, LIHEAP’s annual budget totals 3.5 billion dollars, but profits are starting to dwindle. Since the 2008 recession, funding for LIHEAP has decreased by 1 billion dollars. The program is also not doing an adequate job, as less than one-fifth of households that qualify for LIHEAP ever actually receive the benefits. 

Providing a Solution with the Stability of Solar Energy 

Community solar gardens are just some of the solar energy projects being used nationwide in low-income neighborhoods. Working to alleviate utility burdens by integrating smart solar solutions with local assistance programs is a transition that will ultimately benefit those with lower incomes. The more sustainable solar solutions are used, the better off our environment and neighborhoods will be.  

RREAL intends to expand their solar energy solutions to other partnerships and work with other non-profit organizations and energy providers nationwide. They aim to work with community agencies that not only want to see solar energy integrated into their communities, but also want to grow and expand their own missions to provide energy assistance for needy families. RREAL is also propositioning local and state government agencies for partnerships that will help such agencies implement solar technology at the lowest possible risk.  

For more information about the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance and their programs in the solar energy sector, check out their website here: https://www.rreal.org/ 

Learn more about Southeastern Vermont Community Action Here: https://www.sevca.org/ 





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