It turns out that with a concerted effort, green can be a more consequential color than black and white, at least in Connecticut. Newly released data indicates that the state is bucking a national trend of disparity when it comes to solar adoption among communities of color, according to the Connecticut Green Bank.
The 12-page report, Sharing Solar Benefits, follows a national analysis released earlier this year in a Tufts University study, which found that majority Black and Hispanic neighborhoods have installed less rooftop solar compared to neighborhoods with No Majority race by 61% and 45%, respectively, while majority White neighborhoods installed 37% more.
The opposite is true in Connecticut, attributed to Green Bank’s successful efforts to make solar energy more accessible and affordable for homeowners in communities of color and low-to-moderate income (LMI) households by intentionally engaging these traditionally underserved communities.
Many homeowners are installing rooftop solar photovoltaic systems to save money on energy costs while generating clean, renewable energy, officials said. Although the number of rooftop solar installations in the U.S. has increased more than 50% per year for the past seven years, in many states, communities of color have not participated in this rapid adoption of solar, the Tufts study details.
Two programs at Connecticut Green Bank – RSIP and Solar for All - moved the needle here in a different direction.
In 2012, the Green Bank launched the Residential Solar Investment Program (RSIP) to make rooftop solar installations more affordable by providing Connecticut homeowners with rebates and performance-based incentives (PBI) designed to lower initial out-of-pocket costs. Overall, RSIP has helped more than 30,000 households to date add solar as it continues to quickly approach its current 300MW program allocation.
The report states that “The analysis shows that the RSIP program has been effective at reaching communities of color, and in some instances penetration in communities of color outperforms penetration in White neighborhoods.”
In 2015, the Green Bank and its Board of Directors addressed an observed income disparity in solar adoption by adding special incentives for low and moderate income households to the residential solar program, which quickly accelerated solar adoption in low and moderate income communities.
Recent analysis shows that this has also been extremely successful in reaching communities of color in the state. Today, on a per owner-occupied household basis, there are
86% more RSIP installations in majority Black neighborhoods,
18% more in majority Hispanic neighborhoods, and
20% more in No Majority race neighborhoods as compared to majority White neighborhoods.
A primary driver what is descrived as “democratized access to solar energy” in the state has been the Green Bank’s Solar for All program. In 2015, at the same time Green Bank established its LMI incentive, the organization released a request for proposals seeking contractors to help reach underserved markets. This RFP resulted in a partnership with solar provider PosiGen and the creation of the Solar for All program. Solar for All leverages Green Bank’s elevated incentive to offer LMI homeowners a solar lease paired with energy efficiency upgrades customized for each home including air sealing, LED light bulbs, pipe wrap and programmable thermostats. These measures are in addition to the energy efficiency measures that are installed as part of the state’s Home Energy Solutions (HES) program.
PosiGen’s Solar for All program has been even more successful than the overall RSIP program in reaching communities of color. PosiGen has more projects per home in majority Black (1275%), Hispanic (408%) and No Majority race (427%) neighborhoods than in majority White neighborhoods.
Officials site the one-two punch of these programs for keeping the disparities found elsewhere around the country in cost-saving solar energy programs from taking root in Connecticut, stressing that “with the right program design, it is possible to achieve a racially and economically inclusive solar market.”
The Tufts study, reflecting national trends, had found that for the same median household income:
black-majority census tracts – or neighborhoods – have installed 69 percent less rooftop PV than census tracts (neighborhoods) where no single race or ethnicity makes up the majority (no-majority); and
Hispanic-majority census tracts have installed 30 percent less rooftop PV than no-majority census tracts. Meanwhile, white-majority census tracts have installed 21 percent more rooftop PV than no-majority census tracts.
When correcting for home ownership, black- and Hispanic-majority census tracts have installed less rooftop PV compared to no-majority tracts by 61 percent and 45 percent, respectively, while white-majority census tracts installed 37 percent more.
“In 2015, when we realized that all homeowners in Connecticut did not have access to the benefits of the clean energy economy, our mission compelled us to act. This [Green Bank] study confirms that the response to our programs in underserved communities of color has been even more positive than we anticipated,” said Bryan Garcia, president and CEO of Green Bank.
“Today, there are still significant opportunities for residential solar growth in owner-occupied homes across the state,” Garcia noted, “and we are committed to working with partners like PosiGen to continue to make green energy available and affordable for all Connecticut neighborhoods.” Thomas Neyhart, CEO of PosiGen, added that “With the help of the Green Bank, the state is leading the way in bringing cost-savings and energy independence to households in communities of color.”
The Connecticut Green Bank (formerly the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority) was established by the Connecticut General Assembly on July 1, 2011, as a part of Public Act 11-80. As the nation’s first full-scale green bank, it is leading the clean energy finance movement by leveraging public and private funds to scale up renewable energy deployment and energy efficiency projects across Connecticut.