Free Solar Panels for California’s Low-Income Families
In a move that combines California environmentalism with aid to communities in need, the state has taken $3.2 billion from the California Solar Initiative (CSI) to fund solar panels on low-income housing.
Through a program called MASH, for Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing, the city of San Diego aims to make solar energy so ubiquitous that it’s even found on the homes and apartments where the city’s poorest live.
This 2010 award, the first to use virtual net metering, put 96 solar panels on the roof of the Hacienda Townhomes, an apartment complex in the heart of downtown San Diego in the East Village, east of the Gaslamp Quarter.
Until the late 1990s, the East Village was mostly warehouses and vacant lots. Then came a wave of gentrification that brought in families but failed to eradicate the dive bars and drug addicts. The Hacienda complex is adjacent to an intersection known locally as “Crack Alley.”
Not the ideal place to live, perhaps, but to the tenants of Hacienda, who call the place home, the solar panels – which will reduce carbon emissions by 595 tons and deliver 34.7 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity – spell the same kind of “greening” as in the luxurious La Jolla development to the northeast.
But the affordable solar train won’t stop there. As the New York Times reported, MASH plans to spend $108 million, or about 3 percent of the $3.2 billion allocated under the CSI, to put solar panels on other low-income communities across the state. The goal is to meet the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of 33 percent renewable-energy sources like solar and wind by 2020 – a mandate directed at the state’s utilities.
For the residents of Hacienda, it’s a little slice of an eco-friendly pie that detractors (like consumer watchdog group Utility Reform Network) say has benefited the wealthy and completely bypassed the poor. It has also cut one resident’s electric bill from $90 to $56, which may be a pittance to the wealthy but represents needed medications or milk for children to the poor.
Administered by local utilities Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison, and by the California Center for Sustainable Energy, this uniquely Californian MASHup provides funding at two levels: Track 1, for fixed solar energy rebates ($3.30 per watt); and Track 2, a competitive award process that offers variable rates.
In 2009, MASH’s Track 2 funding went to install solar panels at the Las Serenas affordable housing development. The 63-kilowatt (kW) solar array saves tenants more than $100 on their yearly energy costs by reducing the amount of electricity taken from the grid.
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