Is energy equity for everyone or are middle and low income families falling behind?

Our St. Paul Climate Action and Resilience Plan says that economically stressed communities suffer more effects of climate change, even though they contribute the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions. More pollution, more health problems, more expenses to make our homes and apartments energy efficient. But tools exist that can help increase energy equity in our communities.

Inclusive Financing

For people who want to make energy efficiency improvements in their home, but feel they can’t afford it, inclusive financing may be the answer. This funding model allows customers of a participating utility to pay for the work through their utility bills. It is available to both homeowners and renters, those with poor credit scores, and low-income customers unable to provide upfront money.

If a project is approved, based on the calculation of the potential energy savings, the utility or a partner pays to complete the project. A payback charge is added to the customer’s monthly utility bill but that charge is smaller than the energy savings to the customer due to the project. In addition, the financial arrangement stays with the property; that is, the next homeowner or apartment resident keeps the benefit of the lower payment.

CenterPoint Energy is preparing to launch a pilot program. But, to date, Xcel Energy has no similar plans to offer inclusive financing or even pilot a program.

Community Solar Gardens

If you like the idea of solar energy panels but can’t do it, for example, due to a roof too small or shaded, or if you rent, you may be looking for a community solar garden (CSG). A CSG is a big array of solar panels, usually on the roof of a large building or in an open space, that can be cooperatively owned, or subscribed to, by renters, homeowners, businesses, and organizations. Every subscriber is entitled to a credit on their Xcel Energy bill commensurate with their percentage of the solar array. Thus, people who cannot install their own panels can still save with solar energy.

Besides lowering expenses for subscribers, CSGs also decrease pollution levels, which are shown to be higher in lower income communities. In addition, they can provide badly needed jobs in these neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, Xcel Energy prefers utility-scale solar arrays and includes little provision for the community ownership and cooperative control of CSGs.

Clean Energy Jobs

We need workers who can lead the way in a just transition to clean, renewable energy. Jobs such as solar installers and wind turbine technicians are some of the fastest growing sectors in the country. Given training and hiring opportunities, St. Paul workers can meet these needs moving forward.