Solar energy savings coming to affordable housing residents

Low-income renters will get a break in their electricity bills—and a foot in the door to California’s clean energy economy—thanks to the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program. Under a proposal recently approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, the program will create incentives for rooftop solar installations that benefit tenants at multifamily affordable rental housing properties.  It will also bring renewable energy, bill savings and quality jobs to communities most heavily impacted by fossil fuel pollution.

The Commission’s unanimous vote comes on the heels of advocacy by Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA), a collaborative effort between affordable housing, energy efficiency, clean energy, and environmental justice advocates. EEFA in California includes the California Housing Partnership Corporation, Greenlining Institute, Natural Resource Defense Council, California Environmental Justice Alliance, and National Housing Law Project, among other partners. Their collaboration to bring the benefits of solar energy to low-income families took root with AB 693 (Eggman), the bill that created the program.

SOMAH is the first solar program in the country that allocates the majority of its funds—$1 billion over 10 years—to reducing energy bills for low-income renters. It is expected to serve 150,000 low-income renters at more than 2,000 affordable housing properties across the state, ensuring the economic benefits from tenant solar systems stays with the tenants.

Key to this groundbreaking initiative’s success will be its statewide program administrator, whose leadership will shape how the program protects tenant benefits and connects Californians to clean energy jobs. An effective program administrator will:

  • Establish a program-wide energy savings and participation target;
  • Provide streamlined access to incentive programs for energy efficiency and energy storage;
  • Develop effective local hiring strategies such as a resume bank and an online portal that connects disadvantaged and low-income communities with jobs;
  • Develop effective data tracking tools to document employment outcomes;
  • Evaluate participation over time to ensure that incentives remain appropriate for eligible properties throughout the state;
  • Provide consistent communication and assistance across the territories of California’s five investor-owned utilities;
  • Deliver comprehensive benefits without slowing down an expedited program launch; and
  • Evaluate and adjust incentive levels to align with current solar costs specific to multifamily affordable housing.

EEFA coalition members will advocate for the Commission to host an inclusive and transparent selection process for this crucial position.  A program administrator will be appointed by April 30, 2018, and continue working with CPUC to finalize SOMAH’s program guidelines by August 30, 2018.