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April 18, 2016 Q&A

Narrowing the clean-energy affordability gap

Q&A talks about a new initiative to expand solar use by lower-income homeowners with Kerry O'Neill, managing director, residential programs at Connecticut Green Bank.   

Q: The Connecticut Green Bank last year launched a new “Solar for All” initiative with Louisiana solar installer PosiGen to make solar panels affordable to low-income homeowners. Would those homeowners normally be unable to afford solar panels?

A: We launched the program because we recognized that our lower-income homeowners were an underserved market that needed a unique approach — they just weren't going solar in the same numbers that higher-income households were.

To reach this market we needed solar installers who understood how to work with community partners to reach homeowners living in lower-income neighborhoods, a solar system that had an affordable monthly rate that provided a significant savings on energy bills, and an application process that didn't require complicated credit checks.

The public-private partnership we launched with PosiGen brought into the state an installer that has a track record of reaching lower-income customers with a unique approach that includes pairing solar with energy efficiency, giving homeowners even greater savings on their energy bills. And PosiGen doesn't use a traditional financial qualification process that looks at credit scores, removing another barrier for lower-income households going solar — the worry that they wouldn't get approved for financing.

Q: What is the “clean-energy affordability gap” and why is it important to the state's clean-energy aspirations?

A: The energy affordability gap is the difference between how much a household actually spends on energy each year versus what is considered to be an affordable amount. Lower-income households in Connecticut have a significantly higher energy burden than higher-income households do.

This is money that could be spent on much needed medicine, or education, or paying other bills or saving. With Gov. Malloy's policies around cheaper, cleaner and more reliable energy for the state, we need to be sure that no one is left behind, that all residents have access to affordable options for going solar and making energy-efficiency improvements.

Solar for All improves the financial sustainability of low-to-moderate income families who are most susceptible to rising energy costs by reducing their energy consumption and providing opportunities to leverage state and federal incentives.

Q: How has the Green Bank promoted the Solar for All program?

A: The Green Bank has worked with PosiGen to launch targeted campaigns. Beginning in Bridgeport, which launched in October, and then New Haven, which launched in January, we're working with PosiGen now to get a campaign going in Hartford and the surrounding areas next. PosiGen also has a special launch promotion that involves a discount on the monthly payment for the first three to 12 months, depending on how many families sign up in the first weeks of the campaign.

The Green Bank has a long tradition of partnering with cities and towns, community and faith organizations, neighborhood groups and local leaders to spread the message about all the ways residents can go solar or make their homes more efficient. We've tapped into these relationships to introduce the PosiGen-Green Bank partnership. So far about 200 people have signed up.

Q: What roles do PosiGen and the Green Bank play in this partnership?

A: PosiGen is the installer responsible for the entire process with the customer — from quoting the project, making the sale, handling the application process, installing the solar system and efficiency upgrades, and then providing the financing for the solar lease and energy-savings agreement.

The Green Bank connects PosiGen to local community groups and leaders and helps organize events, with PosiGen managing the day-to-day outreach and marketing across the state in targeted communities. The Green Bank catalyzed PosiGen to move to Connecticut and build out its operations. It has provided $5 million in low-cost debt capital to PosiGen and also provides a tiered solar incentive for qualifying limited income households.

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