California Launches Low-Income Community Solar Pilot Program

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The California Department of Community Services and Development (CSD) has granted $4.4 million to GRID Alternatives to build two community solar pilot projects in Contra Costa and Riverside counties.

The Community Solar Pilot Program, part of CSD’s Low-Income Weatherization Program, is designed to reduce energy costs for households that are not currently able to benefit from existing low-income solar programs. The initiative is also part of California Climate Investments.

“CSD is excited to have the opportunity to pilot new program models like community solar to help ensure that the investments the state is making to fight climate change continue to benefit all Californians,” says Linné Stout, CSD director. “The innovative projects that are being funded under the Community Solar Pilot Program will deliver financial savings to low-income households that otherwise can’t be served by existing solar programs while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Community solar can provide more equitable access to renewable power and the clean energy economy. We’re thrilled to be part of California’s first community solar projects, which will exclusively benefit low-income families,” adds Stan Greschner, chief policy and business development officer with GRID Alternatives. “Not only will the Community Solar Pilot Program directly lower residents’ energy costs and provide workforce development opportunities in low-income communities, but these projects will be models for scalable programs in the future.”

Following a competitive procurement, CSD selected two projects led by GRID Alternatives to receive funding under the pilot.

GRID Alternatives Inland Empire was awarded $2.05 million to install a 994 kW ground-mounted solar array in partnership with the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians and Anza Electric Cooperative Inc. The community solar system will be sited on Santa Rosa tribal lands in Riverside County, an area designated as a low-income community, and will benefit approximately 38 homes on tribal land and 150-250 other low-income households served by Anza Electric. The project is expected to produce more than 42 million kWh of energy over the next 30 years and provide up to $5.4 million in savings to participants.

“We are thankful for the opportunity to facilitate this project by using our tribal lands in a sustainable way,” notes Steven Estrada, tribal chairman for the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians.

GRID Alternatives Bay Area was awarded $2.38 million to install a 989 kW solar array in partnership with the City of Richmond. The community solar system, sited at the Port of Richmond, will demonstrate how solar can play a key role in decarbonizing California’s ports.

The project will benefit 155 low-income households in designated disadvantaged communities in Richmond. Approximately 80% to 95% of subscribers are anticipated to be residents of affordable housing properties that are not good candidates for rooftop solar; they will receive direct financial benefits equal to approximately 75% of typical renter electricity costs. The remaining 5% to 20% of subscribers will be local renters and homeowners who are not able to benefit from existing low-income solar programs. The project is also expected to generate approximately $81,000 per year in revenue over 20 years for distribution to local low-income households.

“There is a rich history of shipbuilding and manufacturing at the Port of Richmond during the WWII era; now we’re using that same innovative spirit to build renewable energy systems that offset residents’ energy costs,” comments Tom Butt, mayor of Richmond.

Each project will also meet local hiring and wage requirements. For the Santa Rosa project, residents from the Santa Rosa Band will participate in paid job-training opportunities during the solar installation. Both projects are estimated to be completed by the first quarter of 2021.

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