Funding from a new bipartisan infrastructure law will support solar energy careers in underserved areas, and a new digital platform aims to make solar power more accessible.
The Department of Energy (DOE) and Health and Human Services (HHS) yesterday announced the five states that will support a pilot program called the Community Solar Subscription Platform, which connects families to solar energy options and lowers electricity bills through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
DOE also announced the release of $10 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to jump-start solar energy careers in underserved New Jersey communities.
Yesterday’s announcement furthers the efforts of the Biden Administration to reach a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035 while creating clean energy jobs.
LIHEAP assists families in eligible households with their heating and cooling energy costs, bill payment assistance, energy crisis assistance, weatherization, and energy-related home repairs.
Transitioning to solar energy can help households across the country save money on their electricity bills, but many Americans have been unable to access these benefits. Community solar, which allows multiple customers to benefit from a shared solar energy system, provides a solution for individuals who do not qualify for or cannot obtain rooftop solar panels.
The DOE’s community solar target is to power 5 million homes and provide 20% savings on a subscriber’s energy bills, up from 10% on average today.
The Community Solar Subscription Platform is designed to connect community solar projects with verified cost savings to households participating in government-run assistance programs like LIHEAP.
The initial pilot will be supported by the states of Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, D.C. These states will provide feedback, coordination, and data to test the operability, security, and performance of the platform.
DOE has prioritized working with states that have existing programs to support low-income community solar development so that, if successful, participants will see significant electricity bill savings, including:
- 20% in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and New Mexico
- 50% in Washington, D.C., and Colorado
DOE estimates that this could lead to electric bill savings of up to:
- $240 million in Colorado
- $300 million in Illinois
- $175 million in New Jersey
- $30 million in New Mexico
- $400 million in New York
- $40 million in Washington, D.C.
The DOE’s National Community Solar Partnership, HHS, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, National Energy Assistance Directors Association, and the National Association of State Energy Officials are collaborating on the Community Solar Subscription Platform.
DOE also issued a Request for Information to obtain feedback on the structure of the platform from community-based organizations, community solar subscription managers and developers, state and local governments, researchers, LIHEAP implementation organizations, and others. Responses are due by August 31 at 5 p.m. ET.
Creating a Strong Solar Workforce
While the solar industry is already more diverse than national averages, a $10 million investment through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law aims to ensure that the future solar workforce is equitable and inclusive, and benefits people in underserved communities who live in and around the projects.
According to estimates in DOE’s Solar Futures Study, the industry will need to create hundreds of thousands of good-quality jobs to achieve decarbonization goals. These jobs should be accessible to workers from all backgrounds, provide competitive wages and benefits, and offer opportunities for union membership.
DOE’s Advancing Equity through Workforce Partnerships program will fund projects that support new workforce programs that bring together employers, training providers, and labor unions to support pathways to the solar industry to recruit, train, and retain an inclusive workforce. These programs will be demand-driven, worker-centric, and sector-based, and will utilize established workforce programs and resources, be sustainable and replicable, and prioritize energy justice.
Launching Community Solar Prize Competition
In order to encourage the development of equitable community solar projects and programs, DOE is also launching the Sunny Awards for Equitable Community Solar, a new awards program that will recognize best practices in community solar that increase equitable access and ensure benefits go to subscribers and their communities. Up to five finalists can win a Sunny Award and prizes of $10,000 per team.