February 26, 2024 — Press Release

 State Community Solar Programs With Strong Consumer Protections Can Ensure Equitable Outcomes for Low-Income Consumers

WASHINGTON – The transition to a clean energy economy requires utility companies, advocates, and policymakers to balance rising energy bills with the need to address climate change. A new report from the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) provides states with best practices to ensure low-income consumers have access to low-cost community solar programs with clear consumer protections from predatory sales and marketing.

“Not all community solar programs offer the same level of consumer protection and meaningful bill savings across the U.S.,” said Berneta Haynes, senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center and author of the report. “The declining cost of solar energy provides an unprecedented opportunity to leverage solar technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while lowering energy bills for low-income families.”

Community Solar: Expanding Access and Safeguarding Low-Income Families looks at existing community solar models, best practices, and state policies and examines the U.S. Department of Energy’s effort to advance community solar through a state-managed low-income subscription software. The report highlights examples of key guardrails to protect low-income subscribers or participants and ensure substantial bill savings.

Currently, 34 million U.S. households—more than a quarter of households—struggle to meet their energy needs, and many of these households frequently face the risk of having their utility service terminated due to late or non-payment. The energy affordability crisis disproportionately impacts Black and Latino/Hispanic households, households with children, and renters. 

“Community solar can provide significant bill savings and bring clean energy within reach of those for whom rooftop solar is not an option, especially renters and multifamily building residents,” said Haynes. “But community solar programs must be designed with intentional consumer protections so low-income participants can count on equitable outcomes and meaningful benefits.” 

To protect low-income families and equitably expand access to community solar, NCLC recommends that states: 

  • Set strong financial and marketing protection requirements for community solar marketers, and
  • Set strong oversight and compliance, eligibility and enrollment, and low-income program coordination requirements for community solar state administrators, particularly committing to standardization and coordination with existing low-income programs.

These recommendations can apply to a broad range of low-income community solar models and provide significant financial protections to ensure an equitable transition to clean energy.

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