Colorado has hit on a formula for energy assistance that helps low-income communities cut their energy bills, while expanding the state’s use of renewable energy and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
“The state has been pursuing low-income solar programs since 2015, and it’s on track to have 20 megawatts installed by the end of 2019 as those programs ramp up,” InsideClimate News reports. “One key to Colorado’s success is that much of the rooftop solar work is being run by county and regional weatherization offices that already provide insulation and other energy efficiency services.”
And with that, “Colorado is emerging as a national model for how to expand renewable energy to low-income homes,” InsideClimate notes. “The results can make a big difference for residents like Joe Anderson, whose power bills have been cut by two-thirds since 13 solar panels were installed free of charge on his ranch-style house under one Colorado program.”
“I felt like I kind of got the luck of the draw,” Anderson said.
InsideClimate profiles the program in Arapahoe County, the third-largest county in the state, where solar was “the logical next step in increasing potential energy cost savings for low-income consumers,” said Steve Elliott, manager of the county’s Weatherization Division. “Our focus is to maximize energy savings for customers,” added Administrative Supervisor Donna Garrett.
“County employees identify which households would benefit the most from solar while doing a larger assessment of energy efficiency and other needs,” ICN notes, so that solar becomes an add-on for about 15% of the homes. “The Arapahoe office has installed 50 rooftop solar systems like Anderson’s in about a year of offering the service, and it projects an average annual electricity bill saving of about US$550 per house, or 59%.”
InsideClimate also describes programs in Colorado that fund community solar developments for low-income electricity customers, as well as utility programs that offer funding support for home weatherization (insulation).
Officials in both Colorado and Ohio said there is far more need for low-income solar programs than states have been able to provide so far. “As with most of the energy economy, low-income assistance is going through rapid changes brought on by technology, and employees are working to adjust,” ICN writes, citing Dave Rinebolt, a former U.S. Department of Energy weatherization assistance manager and program director in Ohio.
“It takes a while to integrate a new program into a delivery system,” he said. “People have to get training. Delivery systems have to get built. But over time, this is a great network of professionals, and they will get good at it.”
In Colorado, with 11% of residents considered “energy impoverished” because they spend 10 to 15% of their income on energy, Colorado Energy Office official Joseph Pereira sees an issue of equity and fairness. Poorer ratepayers haven’t received as much benefit for the renewable energy fee on their utility bills, he said, and “it was really time to get some of that money moving in the low-income direction”.