A proposal for a low-income solar energy program was passed by the Legislature and signed into law on March 30, 2022. House Bill 1814 funds a revised version of Washington’s exhausted solar energy incentive program. In addition to solar for low-income households and service providers, the new program may also fund community solar subscriptions for low-income recipients.
An Olympia nonprofit, Olympia Community Solar, has found success combining solar power and affordable housing at the state level, an effort they said “recognizes the growing need for equity in the energy economy.” After more than three years of advocacy, the nonprofit's proposal for a low-income solar energy program was passed by the Legislature. On March 30, 2022, Governor Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1814, which funds a revised version of Washington’s exhausted solar energy incentive program.
The policy provides the Washington State University’s Energy Extension program $100 million dollars of funding which they will award as grants for solar installations around the state. The program will begin in 2023 for the direct benefit of low-income households and low-income service providers. Olympia Community Solar estimates that more than 44 megawatts of new solar capacity could be installed through the program.
House bill 1814 allows Tribes, nonprofits, public entities, and utilities to apply to WSU for 100% of the capital cost of solar installations located on, or community solar subscriptions that benefit, low income households or low-income service providers. In addition, the program will reimburse the costs associated with developing and administering projects.
Low-income households can spend anywhere from 10-15% of their annual income on energy, while higher-income households spend only about 3%. “The goal here is to use clean solar electricity to reduce energy burdens,” Olympia Community Solar’s President, Mason Rolph said. “It’s an incredible tool for equity and poverty reduction.”
|The Sunflower Community Solar project at the Olympia Farmers Market. Organized by Olympia Community Solar, this non-profit community solar project is owned by 58 community members including 12 local non-profits that received donated subscriptions. The project is 74 kW and include 298 made-in-Washington Silfab Solar panels.
In addition to solar for low-income households and service providers, the new program may also fund community solar subscriptions for low-income recipients. Community solar, a rapidly growing subsector of the solar industry, allows multiple distributed customers to subscribe to a single solar array. In states that pass policies to enable community solar, the benefits of community solar subscriptions are realized as credits on the subscriber’s utility electric bill, a mechanism called virtual net metering.
According to Mason Rolph, "without a State policy governing virtual net metering in Washington, low-income access to community solar is still in question. Community solar companies cannot access virtual net metering without voluntary utility partnership, fair community solar credit values, or ensure consumer protection without legislative action"
More information about the program will be available once WSU publishes the program’s rules, expected in early 2023. To learn more about efforts to create statewide community solar policy see communitysolarwa.com.
Editor's Note: On July 21, representatives from the Washington Department of Commerce and from Washington State University will discuss early progress developing these programs, share expected timelines, and gather feedback as part of Solar Washington's next webinar: Funding Preview: New State Funding Programs