by Jessie Capper
The United States’ federal government offers an energy assistance plan to low-income families who would not otherwise be able to afford their utility bill. Although this program is largely beneficial to these communities, it is not advantageous for our current environmental conditions. Unfortunately, the energy assistance provided by the government does not provide the recipient the opportunity to choose the source of their energy; in other words, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program formed by the government only supplies energy from the local utility companies. These companies supply a majority of their energy from power plants, which account for roughly thirty-eight percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions (Bloomberg Philanthropies). Fortunately, the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance is changing this, ultimately building a sustainable renewable energy program for families of any financial background (RREAL 1).
The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance has developed the Solar Assistance program, also coined the “Community Solar for Community Action” project, to make renewable energy an option for all individuals—regardless of their respective economic condition (RREAL 2). RREAL offers these families with the option of receiving their energy from local community solar gardens. The Solar Assistance program aims to build a solar garden in these lower-income communities that would ultimately be owned and managed by a community action organization. This local group would organize the distribution of the garden’s solar energy to the families currently on or eligible for federal energy assistance (Ayre Jan 30, 2015). Through RREAL’s Solar Assistance program, these families would save on rising utility costs from fossil fuels while creating a self-reliant, environmentally beneficial, and socially equitable program. Unfortunately, RREAL is still finalizing many of the details of their plan, and there is no quantifiable value for the number of families they can properly affect. They hope to benefit no fewer than 40 families; however, this number, and the overall success of the program, is currently unpredictable. Although all the details of the plan are yet to be finalized, RREAL received a grant from the McKnight Foundation in December to support the initial stages of the project, which is set to first be implemented in Minnesota (McKnight Foundation); the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance and the McKnight Foundation are confident that the Solar Assistance program will expand beyond Minnesota, ultimately altering and benefitting the financially isolating renewable energy system we have today.
Ayre, James. “Rural Renewable Energy Alliance — Helping Low-Income Families Switch To Solar.” CleanTechnica. January 30, 2015. Accessed February 4, 2015. http://cleantechnica.com/2015/01/30/rural-renewable-energy-alliance-helping-low-income-families-switch-solar/
Bloomberg Philanthropies (http://www.bloomberg.org/press/releases/bloomberg-philanthropies-partners-launch-new-clean-energy-initiative-limit-carbon-pollution-power-plants-spur-clean-energy-investments/).
McKnight Foundation (http://www.pineandlakes.com/news/business/3641739-mcknight-foundation-awards-grant-rreal).
RREAL 1 (http://www.rreal.org/).
RREAL 2 (http://www.rreal.org/solar-assistance/).
TAGS: Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, Solar energy, Solar