Free Solar Panels for Low-Income CA Homeowners, Funded by Cap & Trade System

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CC BY 2.0. Damian Gadal

The Golden State is investing some of its carbon cap & trade fees into clean energy for low income homeowners through a partnership with the nonprofit Grid Alternatives.

Residential solar energy, although growing by leaps and bounds, tends to only be within reach of people with a middle class or higher income, but a new initiative in California aims to try to change that, by offering home solar arrays with no up-front costs to lower income homeowners. And it's underwriting the program with some of the fees collected through the state's cap and trade program and placed in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), so the initiative is essentially turning industry emissions into low carbon energy.

The new program, which is a collaboration with the Oakland-based nonprofit Grid Alternatives, aims to install solar arrays on some 1600 California homes by the end of 2016, all of which are in neighborhoods the state has identified as being "disadvantaged." To qualify, participants must also own their homes, and have an income of no more than 80% of their local community's median household income, and are expected to be able to contribute at least something to the project, even if it's just sweat equity or feeding the solar installation team.

California's cap and trade system has collected about $1.6 billion from emissions proceeds, and per state law SB535, at least 10% of the money is required to go toward projects in disadvantaged communities that help cut greenhouse gases or improve the local environment, which is how the low income solar initiative is funded to the tune of about $14.7 million.

"I introduced SB 535 in 2011 to ensure that our disproportionately impacted communities benefit from investments in clean energy. These investments will bring energy savings, quality jobs, and environmental benefits where they are needed most." - Senator de León

According to SF Gate, this solar initiative will look to job training programs for installers, and rely on donated equipment from state solar companies, and could save participating homes anywhere from $400 to $1000 per year in electricity costs.