California to extend the benefits of solar to low-income households

August 26, 2019 | 3min read

Solar power provides benefits to both homeowners and the environment. But did you know that most solar system owners are higher income earners? Data from the Deep Solar project from Stanford University reveals that nationally, households with over $100K in income have the highest solar adoption rates. Those households go solar at the rate of over 7 homes per thousand. But in households with less than $100K in income, solar adoption rates drop dramatically. At a household income of $50K, solar adoption rates drop to 1 household per thousand or less. The state of California has an ambitious plan to change all that.

Assembly bill 693: The Multi-Family Affordable Housing Solar Roofs program

AB 693 would create the Multi-Family Affordable Housing Solar Roofs program, which would spend up to $100 Million per year for at least 10 years to put solar panels on about 210,000 affordable housing units. The program’s beneficiaries would save an estimated $38 million per year on electric bills and receive about $19 million in solar tax credits and other benefits. That adds up to a total savings of $1.8 Billion over the ten-year life of the program. Thus, the program would cost about $1 Billion, but provide $1.8 billion in estimated savings.

The California Solar Initiative

An earlier program called The California Solar Initiative has been making solar available to lower-income households. That program led to the creation of the Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program in 2008. Existing state law mandates that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) spend at least 10 percent of its funding to put solar on multi-unit dwellings.

According to the CPUC, the MASH program has already installed 22.7 megawatts of solar capacity on multi-family dwellings. Recently an additional $54 million in funding was approved for the program. It is expected to enable the installation of an additional 35 megawatts of capacity.

The New Solar Homes Partnership

the New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP) is also part of the California Solar Initiative. It is administered by the California Energy Commission. This program encourages developers to construct new, energy-efficient solar homes. A new home development must have at least 20 percent of planned residential units dedicated to extremely low to moderate-income housing to qualify. The NSHP has resulted in 45 megawatts of installed solar capacity.

All new construction must come with solar in 2020

According to the California Energy Commission, in 2012, 27 percent of new single-family homes in California had solar systems involved. That amount is 14 times larger than the amount of new multi-family dwellings constructed with solar installed.

All new construction in California after 2020 must-have solar installed. To encourage the development of multi-family dwellings, California is going to need to continue to support solar through the NSHP and other programs. According to California Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, “These programs also support the financial innovation that must occur in order to ensure that solar is a mainstream alternative for not just a few, but for all communities in California”. Expanding the benefits of solar to all Californians isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

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