Local government staff should come to meetings with potential community partners with an understanding of the CBO’s mission and background so they can speak about how a Solarize campaign could support the CBO’s goals. CBO priorities that a Solarize campaign may help address, and that could be worthwhile to note during these conversations, include:
Secure Buy-in from Community Partners
Lowering energy burdens and building wealth:
Low-income and minority households have a higher energy burden than their peers. Solarize campaigns can reduce this energy burden if the homeowner’s energy cost savings are higher than ongoing solar payments (e.g., solar financing). Reducing monthly energy expenditures can also help LMI households build wealth by providing increased monthly savings and increasing property values.
Stabilizing energy expenditures:
Residential electricity prices have increased over time in most states, thereby increasing energy costs for residents. Residents who install rooftop solar through a Solarize campaign can partly insulate themselves from future price increases by providing energy at a predictable cost over a long period.
Providing clean energy education and empowerment:
Solar marketing and outreach have historically been lower in LMI communities. Educating community members through Solarize campaigns about the technical, logistical, and economic aspects of installing solar energy not only enables individuals to make sound decisions about going solar but also creates new solar advocates throughout the community.
Addressing technology disparities:
Even when adjusting for wealth and home ownership, Black- and Hispanic-majority neighborhoods have significantly less residential solar than White neighborhoods. The “solar contagion effect,” in which residents who see solar being installed in their neighborhood are more likely to install their own solar systems, has been shown to be highest in communities of color. Solarize campaigns can use the solar contagion effect to address the solar installation disparity if they focus efforts in underserved communities.
Providing employment opportunities and job training:
Fewer solar installations in marginalized communities also means fewer solar jobs for marginalized community members. Solarize campaigns help to accelerate the demand for solar, and thus increase the likelihood of local employment opportunities, and in some cases offer job training through the selected installer.
In 2022, the Columbus Area Solar Co-op partnered with a local nonprofit, IMPACT Community Action, to connect the selected installer with the city’s Empowered! workforce development program.
The Empowered! program aims to provide young adults in Columbus with the foundational knowledge and training for full-time employment in the clean energy sector, with a focus on populations historically underrepresented in the clean energy industry, including BIPOC, women, and residents residing in Qualified Opportunity Zones. Designed as an immersive training program based on workforce trends and expectations, the program exposed participants to career options within the clean energy industry by utilizing experienced guest speakers and visits to job sites and training facilities.
When engaging with a CBO, the campaign manager should also be transparent about the limitations of a Solarize campaign to set proper expectations and build community trust. The table below summarizes some of the primary barriers LMI and BIPOC residents face when attempting to install rooftop solar, which a Solarize campaign may or may not address.
Specific LMI or BIPOC Barrier to Rooftop SolarLower home ownership rates: Since fewer Black and Hispanic adults own their home (43% and 46%, respectively) than White adults (72%), it is harder for them to install home solar due to the split incentive between the landlord and renter.
Addressed Through an Inclusive Solarize Campaign?No. However, local governments in states that have enabled community solar can direct renters toward community solar projects as an alternative to a rooftop installation.
Specific LMI or BIPOC Barrier to Rooftop SolarLower solar potential: LMI residents typically own smaller homes, which typically have less roof area available and suitable for solar.
Addressed Through an Inclusive Solarize Campaign?No. However, local governments in states that have enabled community solar can direct residents with roofs with low solar potential toward community solar projects as an alternative to a rooftop installation.
Specific LMI or BIPOC Barrier to Rooftop SolarOlder roofs and electrical: LMI residents are more likely to have older roofs that require replacement and electrical systems that may require upgrades before solar can be installed.
Addressed Through an Inclusive Solarize Campaign?Potentially, but only if (1) funding for incentives for roof repairs/replacement and electrical upgrades are included in the Solarize campaign, and (2) the selected contractors have the necessary experience.
Specific LMI or BIPOC Barrier to Rooftop SolarLower income: Since Black and Hispanic families have significantly lower median household incomes (41% and 27% lower, respectively) than White families, they have less means to pay for rooftop solar.
Addressed Through an Inclusive Solarize Campaign?Potentially, but only if the Solarize incentives paired with financing are sufficient for solar photovoltaics (PV) to cost $0 up front and provide immediate cost savings.
Specific LMI or BIPOC Barrier to Rooftop SolarLower FICO credit scores: LMI residents with lower credit scores have more difficulty accessing low-interest financing or qualifying for third-party ownership models.
Addressed Through an Inclusive Solarize Campaign?Potentially, but only if the campaign partners with a mission-aligned financial institution with lower credit score requirements or requires alternative credit requirements from the solar installer in the RFP.
Specific LMI or BIPOC Barrier to Rooftop SolarLower tax liability: Some lower-income residents may not have enough tax liability to fully utilize the state and federal tax credits.
Addressed Through an Inclusive Solarize Campaign?Potentially, but only if the campaign integrates lower-income incentives, offers third-party ownership where a portion of the tax credit benefit is passed on to residents through a lower payment, and/or educates residents on the process to carry forward their tax credits.
Specific LMI or BIPOC Barrier to Rooftop SolarLack of effective outreach: A lack of representation of people of color in solar companies, with almost 90% of solar senior executives being White, may impact which communities are predominantly prioritized through marketing campaigns and the effectiveness of those campaigns.
Addressed Through an Inclusive Solarize Campaign?Yes, so long as the outreach is tailored toward the marginalized communities.
Specific LMI or BIPOC Barrier to Rooftop SolarLack of solar exposure: Black and Hispanic communities have significantly less solar installed than White communities when controlling for homeownership and income, and lower-income households have disproportionately less solar installed than higher-income households.
Addressed Through an Inclusive Solarize Campaign?Yes, so long as a campaign is successful in increasing installations and, where possible, utilizing existing solar homeowners in those communities as campaign ambassadors.
If partners are interested, consider signing a memorandum of understanding, such as this Solar CrowdSource template, that clearly lays out partner roles and responsibilities. Finally, when engaging with frontline CBOs, consider providing them with financial support, stipends, training and capacity building, or other nonmonetary services to properly compensate them for their participation.
Suggested Next Steps:
Identify and meet with community partners to determine which priorities Solarize can help address. Consider using Part 3 of RMI’s forthcoming Inclusive Solarize Campaign: Develop the Core Team Worksheet for assistance.