Solar energy is not just for wealthy homeowners anymore.
Although there is a historic precedent for wealthy homeowners to install solar panels, there are numerous ways that less advantaged people can enjoy the same benefits. No broad clean-power initiative can be achieved without including the millions of people who cannot afford to install panels on their own.
Fortunately, there are ways to lease solar panels. Under this arrangement, solar energy leasing companies take a percent of solar power generated by the system they install, and give the rest to the homeowner whose property they use. Sharing a percentage of your solar output in this way can help you do your part building a cleaner future for the entire community.
When Should You Consider Leasing Solar Panels?
There are three fundamental conditions that will steer you towards solar leasing:
- Your electricity bills are too high.
- You can’t afford to invest upwards of $10,000 into a solar panel system on your own.
- You live in an area with ample sunlight.
Anyone who fulfills these three conditions may have a great case for a solar lease. Solar panel installation companies are increasingly targeting historically redlined neighborhoods in order to address the ongoing disparity in solar energy demographics.
Considering that the 8.1 million Americans live within three miles of a coal plant have an average per capita income that is 15% lower, it’s evident that the people who need this technology most often have the hardest time obtaining it.
Not only that, but because predominantly African American neighborhoods were redlined in the mid-20th century, this majority has a much greater chance to live in areas that violate federal air pollution standards. Some sources cite a 71 percent calculation of African Americans living in these areas, which places solar energy firmly out of reach of the people who need it most.
If you live in an area with ample sunlight and wish do to your part to improve the community from an environmental point of view, a zero-down solar lease may be what you’ve been waiting for.
How Solar Leasing Works
Essentially, solar leasing operates much in the same way any conventional lease does. However, in counties that allow net metering, it is possible for homeowners to produce enough solar power to have a positive net energy output – a situation where you’re producing more energy that you consume.
In that scenario, sharing solar power with your community reduces your dependence on dirty municipal power often produced through burning coal or natural gas.
However, there are two caveats to solar leasing programs. First, you need to have good credit to qualify. Second, you need to own the property in question. This can shut out lower-income renters that have lapsed on payments in the past. New solar development options may address these issues, though.
Introducing Community Solar Programs
Community solar programs let individuals who do not own their homes or possess strong credit scores invest in solar assets. Essentially, a community solar program is a combined lease wherein multiple households agree to generate solar power as a singular association and then share the benefits between themselves.
This cooperative approach lets a potentially unlimited number of individual households develop and implement solar solutions for their neighborhood. As of 2017, more than 100 projects across 26 states use a community solar implementation program of this variety.
The viability of this options varies between states – not all states have equally encouraging solar programs allowing customers sharing a percentage with solar leasing companies to benefit. Furthermore, regulation and market drivers vary from place to place. In some jurisdictions, legislation for cooperatively owned solar utilities may not yet exist.
An additional issue that community solar programs must address is how net energy benefits are distributed between members. Generally, every member involved asks the same question at first: “How much energy do I get?” And the answer determines just how attractive and successful the community-based model can be.
Federal and State Solar Programs
Between solar leases and community solar programs, there are ample ways for households thus far cut out of the solar energy movement to take part. Until recently, the federal PACE program offered highly attractive solar loans to individuals who did not qualify for traditional loan arrangements.
Rather than sharing a percentage, PACE beneficiaries reduce energy consumption and pay slightly higher property taxes over the course of several decades.
While the Obama-era program is no longer active, there is an ongoing political movement to delegate the program to individual states. This would allow each state to run its own PACE program without needing federal approval. PaceNation maintains an up-to-date list showing the program’s progress in each state – look up yours and find out if you qualify for this option.