Local solar nonprofit seeks to innovate energy assistance
Vermont is pioneering the future of energy assistance as part of a nationwide challenge in partnership with a Minnesota-based clean energy nonprofit.
The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, or RREAL, is working with Southeast Vermont Community Action to use solar energy to help ensure people can stay warm during the long New England winter. By installing locally owned and generated solar electricity, RREAL hopes to demonstrate a cost-effective, low-carbon, and empowering long-term alternative to the national Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a news release stated.
RREAL's program is known as Community Solar for Community Action. The first Community Solar for Community Action pilot was launched in Minnesota in partnership with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe's Energy Assistance program in 2017.
"Energy Assistance provides crucial security for families facing the costs of home energy during the long New England winters, but in its current form, energy assistance is a stopgap, not a solution. Rather than simply paying low-income families energy bills for a year, we're empowering families for decades." stated RREAL's Director Jason Edens in the release.
Community Solar for Community Action, or CS4CA, is a model in which on-bill virtual net metering credits will provide bill assistance to 50 low-income Vermonters based on the clean energy produced by the community solar array. RREAL hopes the 100 percent low-income community-owned solar energy systems will be integrated into the Federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program providing low-income households with access to the renewable energy economy.
"We don't want to replace energy assistance, we want to innovate within it. CS4CA can be replicated across the country with other Community Action agencies so that no one ever again has to choose between basic needs like heating or eating," Edens stated.
By building a community-owned and -operated solar array, RREAL reported communities can have a sustainable source of energy assistance for many years to come rather than simply paying a small portion of families' bills once annually, the release stated. Renewable energy can help provide monthly bill stability, too, according to RREAL, protecting against unpredictable swings arising from energy price fluctuations. In turn, a monthly benefit can provide peace of mind for families facing uncertainty about energy costs.
RREAL created a CS4CA advisory board made up of renewable energy experts from across the country to help advance their model through public partnerships and social impact financing. The organization hopes participating in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar in Your Community Challenge will push forward community solar as an Energy Assistance innovation.
"Southeast Vermont Community Action's CS4CA solar array is generating more local power and saving money," the release stated. "Windham and Windsor County Vermonters will be able to spend more dollars meeting basic needs like food and medicine".
Next, RREAL hopes to develop more CS4CA projects with Community Action agencies and Energy Assistance programs around the country. Its goal is to continue pushing for local energy resilience, environmental stewardship, and energy democracy by providing needed economic benefits to more people in the community.
Visit www.rreal.org/cs4ca to learn more or call 218-587-4753.