Even low-income families now have a path to embracing solar energy — well, at least in some parts of the country anyway — thanks to work being done by the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance.
The rather grizzled organization — started 15 years ago — has been working to create a system whereby families on the federal government’s energy assistance program can receive their electricity via solar technologies, rather than dirty fossil fuels.
The founder and director of the organization (RREAL), Jason Edens, recently spoke to Climate Progress about the project. The project has been dubbed “Community Solar for Community Action.” Edens noted that, as far as he knew, it was the first such system by which low-income families could gain access to free solar energy as part of an assistance program.
As it stands currently, those that get energy assistance via the federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program have no ability to choose where their energy comes from. The utility companies simply get money for the energy bills that those being assisted by the program can’t pay.
“Utilities are among the single biggest beneficiaries of energy assistance,” Edens noted. “Frankly, energy assistance is yet another fossil fuel subsidy.”
This doesn’t have to be the case, though, according to Edens. Via the new program, the low-income families receiving assistance will instead be provided with the option of getting their energy from a local community solar garden.
Climate Progress provides some more information:
RREAL is planning on building a solar garden that will be owned by a community action organization — the specific one, Edens said, is yet to be decided on. That community action group will allocate shares of the garden’s power to families eligible for federal energy assistance. Then, instead of the federal energy assistance dollars going directly to utilities, those families will see the credits they get from the solar garden show up on their electricity bill.
Edens is still hammering out the details of the project — RREAL is planning on partnering with a yet-to-be finalized Minnesota utility on the project, and Edens is hoping to also gain the support of the federal energy assistance program. He’s not sure yet exactly how many families could benefit from the project — no fewer than 40, he thinks, but it will depend on the size of the community solar garden. On the funding side, RREAL got a grant from the McKnight Foundation in December to help jumpstart the project’s creation.
There’s still a fair amount of work to be done, but, according to Edens, this model is going to eventually be used beyond Minnesota, and it’ll “transform the way that our nation delivers energy assistance,” he added.
A bold plan. A nice one, though. And, for that matter, one that seems quite achievable.
Those interested can find out more here.
Image Credit: Rural Renewable Energy Alliance