Solar with Justice:
Strategies for Powering Up Under-Resourced Communities and Growing an Inclusive Solar Market

solar with justice coverWith funding from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Clean Energy States Alliance has worked with the Jackson State University Department of Urban and Regional Planning , the Partnership for Southern Equity/Advancing Equity and Opportunity, the University of Michigan School for Environment & Sustainability, and The Solutions Project  to research and write a report on the solar landscape in under-resourced communities. The report, Solar with Justice: Strategies for Powering Up Under-Resourced Communities and Growing an Inclusive Solar Market, was released on December 10, 2019. The communications firm of Resource Media is helping to promote the report and disseminate the key findings. Short bios of the project team are included below.

The report aims to identify the most useful strategies for advancing solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies in ways that benefit under-resourced communities. It includes detailed recommendations for various key stakeholder groups, including state governments, community organizations, philanthropic foundations, the solar industry, and municipalities.

The project emerged from an early-2018 workshop of grantees and thought leaders co-convened by The Nathan Cummings Foundation and The Solutions Project on the topic of community-owned and community-determined solar. Attendees at the workshop identified a strong need for information and recommendations on solar best practices for under-resourced communities.

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Background

To optimize the benefits of solar energy, access to solar photovoltaics by under-resourced communities needs to happen now. PV costs have fallen dramatically over the past decade and solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 50 percent, making it cost-effective in many locations. Solar energy provides health, environmental, job creation, and economic development benefits, while saving consumers money. And no one stands to benefit from reduced energy costs more than low- and moderate-income (LMI) consumers.

With the right market conditions, finance tools, and policy frameworks, solar can generate additional wealth for under-resourced communities. It can help transfer control over energy decisions to the residents of those communities. It can be integrated into housing and community facilities to reduce energy costs, increase resilience, and improve equity. Anti-poverty programs can gain additional funding for their primary mission by saving on their energy bills. Low-cost solar can be an entry point for developing programs that deliver inclusive wealth-building opportunities for under-resourced communities.

But there are significant obstacles to deploying solar so that its tangible benefits are provided to under-resourced communities. Among other factors:

  • LMI renters can have difficulty benefiting financially from solar.
  • LMI homeowners with below-average credit scores or problematic roofs are often unable to qualify for programs to install PV
  • Most LMI households do not have sufficient tax liability to take advantage of the federal residential tax credit for solar.
  • Federal housing assistance programs can limit LMI households’ ability to benefit financially when solar is installed.
  • LMI households could be harmed by long-term solar contracts that pose financial risks if utility solar programs or electricity rates change.

What Makes This Report Different?

The research method and development of recommendations used for this report have four distinguishing features:

  1. A diverse team worked together to explore solar in under-resourced communities in a comprehensive, integrated manner. The project team not only examined solar technologies, solar policies, and solar market trends, but also the needs and perspectives of residents of under-resourced communities. We put together a project team with deep and varied experience working on solar policy, energy equity, community development, and project financing.
  2. The report gathered the viewpoints of many experts from across the country. In addition to desktop research, the project team conducted 76 interviews with 82 leaders and experts from across the country. We spoke with leading project developers, investors, community leaders, advocates, and representatives of national NGOs, the federal government, state governments, financial institutions, and solar companies. More than 10 additional interviews were conducted as part of the research for the report’s case studies.
  3. The views of leaders of community organizations were given special attention. We especially wanted to hear and understand the perspectives of leaders of frontline community-based organizations working for energy equity and climate justice. Those voices are frequently missing from reports prepared by national organizations working on energy issues. We kicked off the project with a full-day workshop in Atlanta in January 2019 with 14 representatives of frontline community-based organizations. Later interviews and a webinar meeting on draft recommendations ensured that the perspectives of community group leaders continued to be heard.
  4. The report makes clear recommendations. Rather than simply describe the solar market and present dozens of possible program options without evaluating them, this report strives to present very clear recommendations aimed at the most important stakeholder groups that can shape the future of solar for under-resourced communities.

solar justice team

The Project Team 

Warren Leon is the Executive Director of the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA). He oversees the organization’s day-to-day operations and leads strategy development. He has produced many reports for CESA, including Returning Champions: State Clean Energy Leadership Since 2015. Prior to working for CESA, he was Director of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, Executive Director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, and Deputy Director for Programs at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Chandra Farley is Director of the Just Energy Program for the Partnership for Southern Equity. She provides leadership, strategy, and coaching to ensure the program achieves its energy equity goals and optimizes its impact in the community. She works in partnership with environmental and equity organizations throughout the American South to engage diverse communities around issues of energy inequity, democracy, and climate justice. She was previously a Program Manager for Southface Energy Institute.

Nate Hausman is a CESA Project Director. He manages the “Scaling Up Solar for Under-Resourced Communities Project,” an initiative funded by the US Department of Energy to advance three distinct subsets of the LMI solar market: single-family homes, manufactured homes, and multifamily affordable housing. In 2018, he was named to Renewable Energy World’s Solar 40 Under 40 list, which recognizes solar energy leaders under the age of 40. He holds a J.D. with a certificate in Environmental & Natural Resources Law. He is licensed to practice law in Vermont.

Berneece Herbert is Chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. She previously was Interim Chair and Program Coordinator for the Department of Community & Regional Planning at Alabama A&M University. Before joining the university, she worked for a consulting firm and was a Senior Urban Planner and Director of the Department of Statistics and Economic Planning for the Nevis Island government. She holds a Ph.D. in natural resources and environmental sciences.

Nicole Hernandez Hammer is a CESA Project Director working on solar for under-resourced communities. She is a sea-level researcher, climate change expert, and environmental justice advocate. A Guatemalan immigrant, she works to address the disproportionate impacts of climate change on communities across the US. She previously was an advocate at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Florida field manager for Moms Clean Air Force, an environmental blogger for Latina Lista, and assistant director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University.

Bentham Paulos is the principal of PaulosAnalysis, consulting and writing on clean energy policy, technology, and trends, for non-profit, media, industry, research, and philanthropic clients. He is an affiliate at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, sits on the board of CESA, and serves on the Berkeley Energy Commission. He was a program director with the Energy Foundation from 2000 to 2013. For CESA, he wrote Bringing the Benefits of Solar to Low-Income Consumers: A Guide for States and Municipalities.

Tony Reames is Assistant Professor at University of Michigan’s School for Environment & Sustainability. His research focuses on energy justice, exploring disparities in residential energy generation, consumption, and affordability. Among his many publications are “Targeting Energy Justice” and “A Community-Based Approach to Low-Income Residential Energy Efficiency Participation Barriers.” He has a Ph.D. in public admin. and an MS in engineering management.

Rob Sanders is Senior Finance Director for CESA and Clean Energy Group. With over 25 years of experience in community development and energy-related commercial finance, he has deep expertise in designing, implementing, and evaluating financing programs, financial products, and related services in the areas of clean energy and sustainable community development. He was formerly Managing Director of Energy Finance for The Reinvestment Fund, a leading innovator in the financing of neighborhood and economic revitalization.

Laura Schieb is a Program Associate for CESA, where she works on initiatives to make solar more accessible to low- and moderate-income communities. Laura was previously a Global Energy Fellow at Vermont Law School where she worked in the Institute for Energy and the Environment as a team leader in identifying strategies to overcome barriers to low-income solar ownership in Vermont. Laura received an LL.M. in Energy Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.

Danielle Deane-Ryan is Director of the Inclusive Clean Economy Program at The Nathan Cummings Foundation. She has served in executive roles across multiple sectors, devoting her career to climate and clean energy advocacy and communications strategies that integrate equity and inclusion. Danielle served in the Obama Administration as Senior Advisor for External Affairs and Acting Director for Stakeholder Engagement at the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Prior to that, Danielle was a principal at The Raben Group, including serving as founding executive director of Green 2.0.

Rudi Navarra serves as Director of Investments at The Solutions Project, managing grantmaking strategies to advance 100 percent clean energy for 100 percent of the people. Rudi also leads a national effort to organize philanthropy and increase investments in rural electric cooperatives. He also serves as a steering committee member at the 100% Network. Follow him on social media on Twitter @LatinoSublime.

Maria Blais Costello is the Manager of Program Administration for CESA, where she is responsible for managing grants and communications for CESA projects. Maria directs CESA's State Leadership in Clean Energy awards program and coordinates development activities and special events. She also serves as CESA’s corporate secretary. Maria has a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Economics from the University of New Hampshire.