California Approves Low-Income, Multifamily Solar Program

California Approves Low-Income, Multifamily Solar Program

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently approved the creation of the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program. Funded by the statewide greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program, it will provide $100 million in annual solar installation incentives for the owners of affordable multifamily buildings.

To qualify for the incentives, the building must have at least five income-restricted affordable units. In addition, 80 percent of tenants must be earning 60 percent of area median income or the building must be located in a “disadvantaged” area. The incentives are paid out per watt of electricity generated by the panels. The portion of solar electricity serving tenants pays up to $3.20 per watt. The portion serving building common areas pays up to $1.10 per watt. The far higher incentive for tenant energy is meant to ensure the program helps low-income residents.

Other states have experimented with low-income solar grant programs, though most of them target low-income single-family homeowners. In December 2015, Massachusetts launched a $30 million low-income solar loan program. The state also has a $15 million grant program to help low-income residents weatherize their home and improve their energy efficiency.

New York’s Affordable Solar program offers extra solar installation incentives to residents earning 80 percent or less of area median income. In addition, New York City is piloting a community solar project where 1,600 low-income residents will earn energy savings from shared solar panels. Minnesota’s largest private utility company is also experimenting with community solar for low-income residents who most likely cannot install solar panels on the roof of their apartment buildings.