California's New Energy Plan is Helping Working Families and the Environment

May 31st 2015

Thor Benson

Thanks to California's cap-and-trade program, over 1,600 homes will have free solar panels installed by the end of 2016. The cap-and-trade program forces energy and manufacturing corporations to pay the government for each ton of greenhouse gases they emit, which is supposed to encourage less emissions. A nonprofit called Grid Alternatives is now planning to use that program to finance solar energy for working class homes, according to SFGate.

The nonprofit noticed 67 percent of solar arrays are found in neighborhoods where families are middle class, based on data provided by the policy institute Center for American Progress. Most of the rest are found in wealthy neighborhoods.

Solar panel setups are expensive; they can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 to purchase, and even leasing arrays can still be pricey. Though the prices are going down, the nonprofit is looking to help families who want solar arrays but can't afford them on their own.

With solar panels installed, families can save as much as $1,000 per year in electricity bills, with the obvious benefit of solar being better for the environment. The nonprofit claims this is one of the first times cap-and-trade funds have been used to help lower income families. And most solar panel systems will last at least 30 years.

The fund to provide solar to lower-income families was part of SB 535, a bill California State Sen. Kevin De León (D) championed. The result of the bill is that 10 percent of cap-and-trade proceeds would be used to help low income households. California has made over $1.6 billion from cap-and-trade, according to SFGate.

“I introduced SB 535 in 2011 to ensure that our disproportionately impacted communities benefit from investments in clean energy,” De León (D), said of the initiative at an event. “These investments will bring energy savings, quality jobs, and environmental benefits where they are needed most.”  

The way the program creates jobs is by the labor needed to install the solar panels. The nonprofit will be using laborers from job training programs to install the solar arrays. The only thing they ask from families receiving the free solar arrays is that the families try to feed the laborers or help install the system.

This is not Grid Alternatives first foray into providing solar energy to low-income families. Prior to the project Grid Alternatives installed solar arrays in low-income communities using grant money and funds from the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes Program, which is a program that subsidizes solar installation for families that qualify. Grid Alternatives has previously worked with unemployed veterans to install the systems.