Five organizations turning community solar into savings for low-income Americans

By: Nicole Steele

Source: PV Magazine

Community solar projects can enable more people to access the benefits of clean energy by allowing anyone to take part in a local solar project regardless of whether they can, or want to, put solar panels on their own roofs. Community Solar can deliver particularly meaningful benefits to the communities they serve, such as providing bill savings (especially to low-income households), increasing community resilience to grid outages, creating jobs, and building community wealth.

Through the Sunny Awards for Equitable Community Solar, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is recognizing organizations that are unlocking the full potential of community solar and sharing best practices to help others more readily adopt this innovative solar model. This year, DOE recognized five organizations that exemplify the benefits that community solar can bring with $10,000 grand prizes, and recently launched a new round of the prize.

Among this year’s winners, these five organizations each take a unique approach to save a combined total of $4.3 million on their subscribers’ energy bills. Here’s how they’re bringing the benefits of clean energy to their communities:

In Shungnak and Kobuk, Alaska, the Shungnak-Kobuk Community Solar Independent Power Producer (IPP) project, a solar-battery microgrid project located, is owned by two local tribes. It provides every household in these communities with renewable power and increases resilience to diesel fuel cost fluctuations.

The project includes a 223 kW solar array and a battery, allowing the communities’ diesel generators to turn off for an average of eight to ten hours per day during the daylight season. The battery storage also stabilizes the local grid in the event of any generator failures and can power the community for up to 2 hours. Excess funds generated by the sale of electricity from the solar array will be used to help households lower their energy bills through energy-efficient home upgrades.

The project is the first of its kind operating above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. The Northwest Arctic Borough plans to have all 11 communities in their jurisdiction develop independent power producers within five years.

In Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia’s (D.C.) Solar for All program provides no-cost community solar subscriptions to low- to moderate-income (LMI) households, saving them an average of $520 per year. It currently includes over 160 community solar projects that serve more than 6,000 LMI households in D.C., with a goal of reducing electricity bills by 50% for 100,000 LMI households by 2032.

This program, led by the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment and the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility, provides a capacity-based incentive to community solar developers. This incentive, coupled with federal tax benefits and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), helps cover the cost of developing, constructing, operating, and maintaining each project.

D.C. Solar for All partners with Groundswell, a non-profit, which leads in-person community events. Many of the solar projects are built on community buildings such as churches and multi-family housing. D.C. Solar For All also partners with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility on a workforce development program that helps to connect DC residents with a five-month paid externship and provides skills development, on-the-job training and experience, OSHA training, certifications, mentoring, and job placement assistance.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., the Community Power project is a 1.2 MW project that delivers 20% guaranteed electricity bill savings to 500 LMI households. Two local organizations, WE ACT for Environmental Justice and the Brooklyn Movement Center, engaged residents and community members through a neighborhood-based approach. These community-based organizations worked in multiple languages with community boards, tenant associations, affordable housing and social service providers, and elected officials to build trust in and awareness of the opportunity for households to subscribe to this project.

The project also provided workforce training led by Solar One and Green City Force that led to full-time jobs with solar installers for several public housing residents. All the subscribers to this project also become members of the NYC Community Energy Co-op, giving them a controlling stake in future energy projects and the opportunity to become member-owners of the solar array that serves their community.

In Faribault, Minn., the Faribault Community Solar project is a community solar project developed by Cooperative Energy Futures under the Xcel Energy Solar Rewards Community program. All subscribers to the project are member-owners of Cooperative Energy Futures. They receive an annual share in the Cooperative’s profits through dividends and equity and have voting rights in key Cooperative decisions. This community ownership model helps households build wealth and have decision-making authority in the clean energy future of their communities.

The project provides bill savings to 77 subscribers, about half of which are LMI households. Cooperative Energy Futures does not require income or credit verification for subscribers, as verification paperwork requirements can create barriers to enrollment. The project provides assurance to lenders and tax equity investors using an innovative back-up subscriber model in which a large local organization–called an anchor tenant–agrees to accept additional project capacity as a stop gap measure in case of vacancy or default by residents.

The project was constructed by a local, minority-owned installer that is committed to fair wages and providing workforce training through an electrician apprenticeship program.

In Ashland, Mass., the JOE-4-SUN Ashland project is a 6 MW low-income community solar project located on a federal superfund site. The project serves over 500 LMI households. It provides a guaranteed 50% savings on bill credits to participating households, amounting to savings of more than $400 per year per household.

This project leverages the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program, which promotes solar development in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The project developer and owner, Citizens Energy, prioritizes making enrollment as easy as possible for households – never requiring a credit check and avoiding any sign up or cancellation fees. This project used entirely union labor, supporting good-paying jobs with livable wages and benefits. It also demonstrated innovative siting practices by locating the project on a superfund site once home to the Nyanza Chemical Waste Dump.

Each of these Sunny-award-winning projects demonstrates how community solar can provide meaningful benefits to the communities they serve and ensure the clean energy transition unfolds equitably. The Sunny Awards are run by the DOE National Community Solar Partnership, a coalition of stakeholders working to expand access to affordable community solar to every U.S. household and enable communities to realize meaningful benefits.

To learn more about the meaningful benefits of community solar, check out DOE’s webinar series, Building with Benefits: Meaningful Benefits as a Foundation for Equitable Community Solar. Register here for the upcoming July 12 webinar.

Schneider Electric and Citizens Energy Corporation Receive Top Project of the Year Award

Organizations recognized for state-of-the-art technology delivering on sustainability, energy efficiency and resiliency

Microgrid provides added resilience to ensure critical care and services for community during a power outage

Boston, MA, July 10th, 2023 – Schneider Electric, the global leader in the digital transformation of energy management and automation, together with Citizens Energy Corporation, a Boston-based non-profit energy company, today announced they have been honored with the prestigious Project of the Year Award in the Environment + Energy Leader Awards program. This accolade recognizes their joint development of a one-of-a-kind microgrid for the Daughters of Mary of Immaculate Conception Campus in New Britain, Connecticut. It is a leading example in energy or environmental management and honors the exemplary work of both organizations to transform the 137-acre campus into a groundbreaking renewable energy hub.

The community was increasingly challenged to deliver much-needed social services and senior care through emergencies that threaten the local electric grid. The groundbreaking project uses clean energy sources to provide essential backup power, while reducing the community’s environmental footprint.

“To be recognized by Environment + Energy Leader for this incredible project with Citizens Energy Corporation is a significant achievement that demonstrates resiliency as a pillar of sustainability,” said Don Wingate, Vice President of Microgrids at Schneider Electric. “Working together to develop innovative solutions that help critical institutions provide much-needed services in emergency situations is something we will continue to invest in, time and time again.”

The microgrid, which was built without any up-front costs for Daughters of Mary, improves resiliency at their facilities during emergencies. It serves four standalone critical facilities on the Daughters of Mary campus and ensures reliable, efficient, renewable power is continuously available. The four systems can operate collectively or individually, also known as “island mode”, allowing operations near normal capacity separate from the electric grid for extended periods during power outages. The project is the state of Connecticut’s first microgrid capable of operating on 100% renewable energy around the clock in island mode.

“We are proud to celebrate this massive feat for renewables,” said Joseph P. Kennedy III, President of Citizens Energy Corporation. “This company was founded to be a change maker. Not only are we making life’s basic necessities more affordable, but we are building the clean energy projects that others only talk about. This may be the first of its kind, but it won’t be the last.”

“We, the Daughters of Mary, are so honored and pleased to play a role in such an important and viable environmental issue,” said Mother Mary Janice Zdunczyk. “Our critical facilities are 100% resilient and are not only helping the environment, but they are providing our organization cost savings. A true win-win scenario.”

Two local Connecticut companies, Ecosolar Installations and Associated Real Estate Services, played instrumental roles throughout the development cycle. Ecosolar also served as the primary construction lead. Both companies continue to support the project.

The outstanding qualities and remarkable achievements of the Daughters of Mary microgrid project captivated the attention of the program’s distinguished panel of judges. One judge remarked, “This is a wonderful example of an environment project that clearly meets the 3 legs of sustainability – people, profit, planet.” This affirms the exceptional impact and excellence of the Daughters of Mary microgrid project in driving sustainability and energy efficiency.

Environment + Energy Leader Awards commend excellence in products and projects that deliver significant energy and environmental benefits.

Sarah Roberts, Co-President of E+E Leader, emphasized the rigorous selection process, stating, “This year’s entrants had to surpass an exceptionally high bar to qualify for an award, thanks to a seasoned and discerning judging panel as well as stringent judging criteria.”

– ### –

About the Environment + Energy Leader Awards:

For over a decade, the Environment + Energy Leader Awards have celebrated excellence in the world of environmental, sustainability and energy management. Award recipients are acknowledged as industry leaders, and featuring a Top Project or Top Product of the Year Award badge signifies their outstanding contributions. Companies seeking sustainable and energy management solutions trust that E+E Product of the Year Award winners offer a comprehensive array of vetted products to guide their decision-making. Project of the Year Award winners exemplify how sustainability and energy management projects can successfully enhance the profitability of other companies.

About Citizens Energy

Citizens Energy Corporation is a Boston-based, not-for-profit energy company founded by former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. Under his leadership, Citizens Energy has compiled a 40-plus-year history of channeling revenues from successful energy ventures in oil, natural gas, electricity trading, energy efficiency and conservation, transmission, wind power, solar arrays, energy storage and microgrids to programs that help the poor. The mission is to make life’s basic necessities more affordable to those in need.

About Schneider Electric

Schneider’s purpose is to empower all to make the most of our energy and resources, bridging progress and sustainability for all. We call this Life Is On. Our mission is to be your digital partner for Sustainability and Efficiency.

We drive digital transformation by integrating world-leading process and energy technologies, end-point to cloud connecting products, controls, software and services, across the entire lifecycle, enabling integrated company management, for homes, buildings, data centers, infrastructure and industries.

We are the most local of global companies. We are advocates of open standards and partnership ecosystems that are passionate about our shared Meaningful Purpose, Inclusive and Empowered values.