Making Solar Power More Accessible

by Ari Phillips July 7, 2015

On Tuesday, Vermont Senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders introduced legislation aimed at making it easier for low-income families to take advantage of solar power. The bill, called the “Low Income Solar Act,” came the same day that the Obama Administration announced a similar program aimed at installing 300 megawatts of renewable energy in federally subsidized housing by 2020.

The Sanders bill would aid in this effort by providing $200 million in Department of Energy loans and grants to help offset the upfront costs associated with installing solar panels on community facilities, public housing and low-income family homes. The projects would also have to prioritize loans for female- and minority-owned businesses, as well as target specific regions including Appalachia, Indian tribal lands, and Alaskan native communities.

“The scientific community tells us very clearly if we’re going to reverse climate change and the great dangers it poses for the planet we must move aggressively to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy,” Sanders said in a statement. “We can achieve this goal, save families money and protect the planet for future generations.”

According to the bill summary, homeowners with suitable roofs would receive grants to help them afford solar panel installation while renters or others without appropriate siting options would get connected through alternative means such as community solar gardens. Solar gardens are designed for those without rooftop access as a way to connect to a shared solar system that guarantees their electricity comes from solar power. Usually these community solar gardens are one or two megawatts in size and operated by third-party solar providers and local utilities.

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