Public agencies enable SolarCity’s community solar offering for low income families

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Families on low incomes in California will be able to benefit from a new drive by PV install and leasing company SolarCity, enabled by a programme set up by the state’s regulator.

California Public Utilities’ Commission (CPUC), responsible for setting out the terms under which privately owned utilities operate, has run the MASH (multifamily affordable solar housing) programme since 2008. To date, over 350 projects have gone ahead through the scheme, enabling the addition of 22.7MW of PV generation capacity across California.

SolarCity announced yesterday that through an additional US$54 million in incentive funding being made available to MASH, it will be able to install solar energy projects on the rooftops and carports of affordable housing communities. SolarCity did not say how much new capacity it intends to deploy through the new offering, but the total extra incentive funding is intended to result in the deployment of 35MW more PV capacity on multi-family housing.

In addition to MASH, the installer said, the projects will be supported by the California Energy Commission’s New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP) programme. Under the provisions of NSHP, solar energy projects at affordable housing communities can receive incentives as long as at least 20% of those projects will directly benefit families on the lowest to moderate income spectrum for at least 10 years.

California State Assembly politician Cristina Garcia said that the measures are intended to help reconfigure a market that is “difficult to transform” and boost it up.

“These programmes 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,” Garcia said.

The US solar industry and policymakers alike have sought recently to stimulate some of the slower moving segments of the market recently, with community solar increasingly a priority in many regions. GTM Research put out a report in June that called community solar the “most significant” growth market in US PV, predicting that it could reach 500MW a year by 2020.

While the majority of community solar programmes are not necessarily aimed at low income households and are based more on a general concept of shared community ownership of solar, for example for those who do not have suitable rooftops or who rent their accommodation, the latest announcement by SolarCity comes on the heels of non-profit solar installer, GRID Alternatives, receiving a US$1.2 million grant to deploy PV projects in rural Colorado demonstrating how solar can benefit low-income communities while helping utilities diversify their energy mix.

As well as expanding the reach of solar onto the rooftops and carports of low income households, SolarCity’s new offering will train up installers from those communities as well, the company said.

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