EDA Response to the Release of the Report on Low-Income Participation in Shared Solar

On Monday, the New York State Department of Public Service Staff released a long-awaited report on how the state should facilitate participation of low-income people in the opportunity of shared renewable energy.  The report was expected to make recommendations on a path forward to ensure that low-income people would benefit from the state’s shared renewable energy policy.  The proceedings were developed in order to create opportunities for renters, other households, and businesses who cannot afford or access solar to participate in the solar economy. Instead, the report provided yesterday summarily dismissed the collaborative work and recommendations of dozens of organizations and businesses who the Staff had convened.

When the community shared renewables policy was enacted in July 2015, Governor Cuomo said it would ensure that “all New Yorkers, regardless of their zip code or income, have the opportunity to access clean and affordable power.”

But major barriers continue to exist for low-income people who want to take advantage of shared solar and who could benefit from lower bills, job opportunities, and a cleaner environment offered by shared solar development. These barriers include lack of access to capital for upfront costs, difficulty getting credit, predatory practices by energy companies, and low levels of state investment from funds that are set aside to help residents and businesses take advantage of renewable energy.

The Public Service Commission recognized many of these barriers when it approved the shared renewables policy, which led to the creation of a collaborative effort for stakeholders to share ideas and recommendations for overcoming them.

Members of the Collaborative worked throughout the fall 2015 to create a lengthy document packed with recommendations and innovative approaches to enable low-income participation in shared solar projects, including ideas to help low-income people become actual member/owners of solar projects.

Some ideas included in the document are:

  • The creation of state incentives specifically to encourage low-income participation in shared solar, paid for from clean energy funds that all consumers contribute to but that low-income households to date have had difficulty accessing.
  • The use of cooperative ownership models that are working to provide low-income shared solar access in other states.
  • New York Green Bank credit support for low-income participation in order to reduce risk and lower financing costs for projects serving low-income households.
  • Technical assistance and grants to community organizations and non-profits to support innovative shared solar project models.
  • Strong consumer projections to provide confidence in the shared solar product among low-income communities that have traditionally been the victims of energy schemes in the past.

Despite the wealth of ideas provided by the participants in the Collaborative, the Staff submitted a report to the Commission stating: “Although the Collaborative spent a great deal of time and effort investigating the barriers to low-income customer participation in CDG projects, workable solutions have not arisen that would overcome those barriers.”

No explanation was provided for why the ideas provided by the Collaborative were not workable. The Staff went on to recommend that the Collaborative be “suspended” and that instead utility ownership of shared renewable energy projects be explored as a solution going forward.

In response to the disrespect shown to the participants of the Collaborative by the Department of Public Service Staff, the New York State Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA) released the following statement:

“Many EDA members participated in this collaborative in good faith, spending countless hours in meetings to hash out ideas, provide research, and elevate the needs of low-income households in this process. Though we know there was more work to do to fine-tune the recommendations, provide additional research, and develop consensus for ways forward, we are shocked by the filing from the Department of Public Service Staff, which essentially dismisses all of the progress that was made and disbands the effort with no real explanation to those who participated.

“We are deeply concerned about the meaning of this action. We were expecting a plan to get New York on a path of equitable access and participation in shared solar energy for all New Yorkers. Instead we got months of delay and inaction culminating in a rejection of the variety of options and ways forward identified by the participating community-based organizations, consumer advocates, utilities, clean energy companies and finance experts participating in this process. The result of this will be that low-income New Yorkers will continue to be shut out of shared solar opportunities for the foreseeable future.

“Many of the recommendations provided by stakeholders in this process would have begun to reverse inequities inherent in our current energy system and energy policy by providing low-income New Yorkers a share of their own funds that have been contributed for state clean energy programs, and by providing pathways to more affordable energy and even ownership of renewable energy assets. We are beyond disappointed that these ideas were so summarily disregarded.

“New York will not meet its energy goals without addressing the systemic inequities in our current economic and energy systems. With at least 40% of the population in the state being low or moderate income, it is essential that energy policy in New York be designed with the needs of those households as central, not as an afterthought. Strong action and interventions by New York’s energy regulators, NYSERDA, and the Governor are necessary at this time to break down the barriers to renewable energy access and to ensure that low-income people who want to participate in solar are provided the same opportunities as everyone else to build wealth and ownership in New York’s clean energy economy.”