Equitable Access to Solar Energy Starts with a Policy Shift

Vote Solar
Oakland, California
We have long worked to make solar energy available and affordable to people in low-income communities everywhere. We spoke to Melanie Santiago-Mosier, Managing Director, Access & Equity of Vote Solar, about the work they are doing on a national level.
Illustration of a house and solar panels.
I cannot overstate the extent to which our partnership with BlueHub is critical, particularly on Massachusetts policy. We have to rely on good partners who are in the space of providing solar to underserved communities. We couldn’t do our work if we weren’t partnered with them.”
Melanie Santiago-Mosier,
Managing Director, Access & Equity, Vote Solar

Why is equitable access to solar important?

There are a number of reasons. Start with market size: In order for solar to become a prominent energy source, it needs to be for everyone, not just middle- and higher-income families. There is energy burden mitigation. Solar provides savings for families who take advantage of it. For lower income households the overall energy burden is disproportionately high; solar could alleviate unaffordable energy bills. And there’s justice. Our current energy system has created terrible pollution leading to poor health outcomes in underserved communities, while at the same time communities of color and other underserved communities are not reaping the economic rewards.

What are the roadblocks for low-income communities?

Even though solar is completely affordable for middle-income families, there are still upfront costs. The financial barriers aren’t insurmountable, but they need to be considered. Then, there are physical barriers. Most people install solar arrays on their roof. Does a lower-income family own their home? If they do, can their roof support solar?

This is one reason we are awfully optimistic about the potential for community solar, which is one of BlueHub’s specializations.

There is a trust barrier, too. Underserved communities are wary of scams. Solar providers need to work to build trust, in order to spread the message about the true potential of solar to save money and help the environment.

Is this really a policy issue?

It definitely takes a public policy platform to create a marketplace, programs, and services that can deliver solar for underserved communities — and in states with good solar policies we have seen an uptick of solar for underserved communities. It won’t be necessary forever, but I think it is necessary right now.

Of course, we need to be thoughtful and be sure that solar programs fit into existing public policies. For instance, there are energy assistance programs that could be impacted by the addition of solar.

Who do you look to for help in putting solar on the national agenda?

Vote Solar considers BlueHub to be an important partner and an entity that is doing unique things. We are really watching them closely to see how we can take BlueHub’s ideas and translate them to other places. In fact, recently we featured one of BlueHub’s projects as a case study in our Low-income Solar Policy Guide, a publication that reaches a national audience. BlueHub is very generous with their knowledge; I have seen them participating in national conferences, sharing their learning and insights with organizations from all over the country.

What is the long-term goal?

We see a 100% clean energy future — and we think that 50% of that clean energy supply can come from solar. Every single family needs to have the opportunity to choose solar as their source of energy.

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