Biden administration awards $7B to bring solar to low-income areas

Clean energy, like so many commodities in this country, is neither distributed evenly nor equally. Disadvantaged communities have far fewer solar panels arrayed across their rooftops than areas with higher incomes. The federal government just took a major step toward crossing that chasm.

On Monday, President Joe Biden announced the 60 organizations that, under the administration’s Solar for All program, will receive a combined $7 billion in grants to bring residential solar to low-income neighborhoods. The funding will flow into state, municipal, and tribal governments as well as nonprofits to support existing programs for low-income solar and battery storage installations and spur new ones. Such efforts are expected to bring affordable clean energy to 900,000 households.

While the climate and environmental benefits of this effort are critical, the households poised to benefit will feel the most immediate impacts on their pocketbooks.

“Low-income families can spend up to 30 percent of their paychecks on their energy bills,” Biden said while announcing the funding in Virginia. “It’s outrageous.”

That reality is central to the administration’s program, which will cut energy costs for those families who monitor their spending to ensure they can make it to the end of the month. By bringing rooftop and community solar to communities in need, Solar for All could save energy-burdened families on average $400 a year.

The 60 recipients were selected by dozens of review panels composed of experts from across the executive branch. The Environmental Protection Agency will finalize contract details in the days and weeks ahead, and awardees are expected to receive the funding in summer to begin implementing their efforts.

Without the low-income solar programs that will be established and expanded with these funds, most families can’t afford to place energy-producing panels atop their homes. Most rooftop installations cost tens of thousands of dollars, and even with a long-term loan and the promise of a year-end tax credit to help cover a steep upfront cost, that places the technology out of reach for many Americans.

As Solar for All brings energy savings to low-income and disadvantaged families nationwide — advancing Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to ensure that at least 40 percent of climate investments directly benefit frontline communities — it will also accelerate progress toward the administration’s goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy nationwide by 2035. The EPA estimates that the $7 billion will underwrite 4 gigawatts of solar installations nationwide, enough to power more than 3 million homes. All told, the program is expected to prevent over 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from ever entering the atmosphere while also creating 200,000 jobs and affording tribal nations an improved path to energy sovereignty.

For years, Indigenous communities across America have been using solar and other renewables to liberate themselves from an energy system that pollutes their air and establish something that they own. With $500 million slated specifically for tribal governments, Solar for All can help accelerate those efforts. One such award for over $135 million will go to the Northern Plains Tribal Coalition, a partnership of 14 Indigenous nations brought together by the Native-led nonprofit Indigenized Energy and the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation.

“This is a once-in-a-generation award that will begin to transform how tribes achieve energy sovereignty,” Cody Two Bears, executive director of Indigenized Energy, said in a press release. “The shift from extractive energy to regenerative energy systems will be the legacy we leave for our future generations.”


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