What a great idea!
Just as the USDA now allows people to spend food stamps at farmers markets, a group in Minnesota wants to spend state energy assistance funds to bring solar energy to low income families.
Funds make sure people with low incomes get electricity and heat during the winter.
"We are hemorrhaging public resources to foot the bill for low-income energy assistance. On an annual basis we spend about $100 million in Minnesota alone," says Jason Edens, Founder of Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL). "If we can deploy these community solar gardens in lieu of energy assistance, that’s a solution for three to four to five decades. It’s a much wiser use of public resources on behalf of our low-income families and neighbors," he told Pine and Lakes Echo Journal.
RREAL built Minnesota’s first Community Solar Garden in 2013. Now, instead of giving families money to pay expensive electric and heating bills, suitable families will get electricity from solar gardens. They can even get a solar heating system installed if they qualify for the federal LIHEAP program.
Under "Community Solar for Community Action," not only would people benefit from clean energy, they will be insulated from political decisions on how much funding goes to the program each year.
"This model that could be deployed from Florida to Alaska, Hawaii to Maine because energy assistance is used even in warm climates. In those areas it is actually used for low-income families grappling with the high cost of air conditioning," says Edens. "This is a model that RREAL will be able to bring to the national stage, because we have cultivated good relationships with our friends in the energy assistance community, it’s quite possible we will be able to do that over the coming years."
Making energy assistance more affordable will also lower costs to taxpayers, while making assistance possible for more people.
Xcel Energy plans to double the amount of solar on its Minnesota grid by giving customers the option of participating in community solar projects.
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