Report Addresses Barriers to Low-Income Solar Ownership in Vermont

SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt., April 17, 2018––The Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) at Vermont Law School today released “Low-Income Solar Ownership in Vermont: Overcoming Barriers to Equitable Access,” a report prepared for the Vermont Low Income Trust for Electricity (VLITE), Inc. The report examines how to give low-income customers equitable access to the benefits of distributed solar as the renewable energy resource becomes an increasingly cost-effective option to meet clean energy goals.

Report Addresses Barriers to Low-Income Solar Ownership in Vermont

The new report follows up on a 2014 IEE report, “Energy Costs and Burdens in Vermont,” which found that approximately 1 in 5 Vermonters, or about 125,000, lived in fuel poverty—representing a 76 percent growth over the previous 13 years. The authors of “Low-Income Solar Ownership in Vermont” examine four categories of barriers: upfront capital costs; unsuitable housing; lack of information, time and trust; and existing incentives.

“Vermonters should have equal access to the benefits of solar and it is clear in looking at both federal and state policy that is not the case, particularly when it comes to access to solar ownership among low-income Vermonters,” said IEE Director Kevin B. Jones. “In order for our state and nation to meet our clean energy and climate goals, in an equitable fashion, we need both our legislators and our regulators to help level the playing field. There is much work to do to remove the barriers to low-income solar ownership.”

The Energy Clinic team's report explains how Vermont's flawed renewable energy policy, which allows the out of state sale of renewable energy credits from projects funded by state programs, has resulted in the Vermont energy mix including 0% Solar and 0% Wind resources and growing greenhouse gas emissions from the electric sector. The report makes recommendations on how to change these policies for the future.

“It is particularly difficult for any Vermonter, particularly low-income Vermonters, to make the numbers work and truly purchase net-metered solar with the punitive $0.06/kWh REC [renewable energy certificate] adjusters put in place by the Vermont Public Utility Commission in opposition to what many Vermonters requested,” Jones said. “If the commission does not change this shortsighted, punitive policy, then the legislature should.”

According to Energy Fellow for Climate Justice Christa Shute JD’13, in addition to environmental benefits, solar is about stabilizing energy costs over the next 40 years.

“Increasing access to net-metering for low-income Vermonters is an equity issue that deserves attention,” Shute said. “This Vermont Law School report on increasing access to low-income solar ownership highlights challenges and proffers potential solutions. There are answers if we consider the problem from the perspective of those facing the challenges. I have faith that our state can come together and be a leader to find energy solutions that work for our most vulnerable.”

To inform the report, the Energy Clinic at the IEE explored how Vermont’s low-income residents are participating in the solar net-metering program, identified challenges faced in procuring solar energy, and developed policy proposals that will help lower barriers to and encourage low-income customers’ participation in these programs. Researchers interviewed local financial institutions, community action agencies, affordable-housing developers, and others involved in the industry. They also researched what other states and regions are doing to promote diverse solar ownership opportunities.

Proposed solutions consist of improved incentives, financing, and education and training—all with an eye toward long-term policy. Solution highlights include:

1. Incentives

a. Create low-income specific adders to net-metering projects.

b. Reversal or modification of harmful 2017 changes to net-metering, including the punitive REC adjuster.

2. Financing

a. Legislative mandate for the Public Utility Commission and utility implementation of an on-bill tariff program that lends to the meter instead of the person. This addresses three primary barriers: the split incentive in rental homes, access to financing, and an aversion to risking additional debt.

b. Support existing financing programs with increased access to loan guarantees and funding sources.

3. Informing

a. Collaboration with community partners, utilities and providers is necessary to create a successful program that is promoted statewide.

b. Identify and inform targeted demographic based on volunteer answer to one question on state tax return.

c. Motivate citizens to inform neighbors on ways to save money and stay warm.

“Vermont has an opportunity to advance its energy and climate goals, strengthen the economy, and assist those with the highest energy burden,” Jones said. “We can bring the benefits of solar ownership to a larger portion of the population by creating market-specific incentives, leveraging that investment through financing, and informing them of opportunities.”

The “Low-Income Solar Ownership in Vermont: Overcoming Barriers to Equitable Access” report can be downloaded here.

Source: The Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, vermontlaw.edu

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