By Mark Ruffalo And Aaron Bartley
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State Energy Plan, released last week, breaks big barriers to clean energy. But the biggest barrier of all is affordability for 100 percent of people. That’s what we care about most and it’s why we launched the 100% campaign last month in New York. The governor’s plan could help bust that barrier, too, through community net-metering – often called shared renewables – which could allow millions of New Yorkers to plug into solar power for the first time.
Solar is already powering the Empire State in a big way. Declining solar installation costs mean that record numbers of New Yorkers are harnessing sunshine to save on their energy bills. New York State, in turn, has invested $750 million in the construction of the nation’s largest solar panel manufacturing facility in Buffalo. In July, our PUSH Green program will begin signing people up for a discount rooftop solar PV program tailored to the needs of low- and moderate-income households in Western New York. This program will help spur job creation at the neighborhood level.
Despite this progress, a majority of New Yorkers cannot go solar today. This is especially true for the low-income families that PUSH Buffalo serves, many of whom are renters who don’t own their homes or don’t have available cash to cover the upfront costs of solar. While these families enjoy – as we all do – the pollution reduction and cost-saving benefits of rooftop solar on our grid, direct access to solar remains out of reach.
The governor’s plan promises to address these issues through its shared renewables program in which participants would be able to subscribe to a renewable energy system located in their community and receive credit on their utility bills for their portion of the power produced. But it must be a strong and equitable program that also empowers low-income communities to cooperatively develop, own and manage shared renewable energy systems and create living wage jobs for local residents – not surprisingly, features missing from proposals recently unveiled by utility corporations
PUSH Buffalo and 57 organizations statewide call for clean energy equity by requiring that at least 20 percent of program participants are low income through credit support, technical assistance, grant incentives and an option to allocate electricity assistance funds toward a shared renewables subscription.
Families struggling to pay their utility bills deserve solar savings. Communities overburdened by environmental pollution deserve access to clean energy alternatives and the community wealth and resiliency it provides.
Actor Mark Ruffalo co-chairs the 100% campaign, a project of the Solutions Project, on whose board he sits. Aaron Bartley is executive director of People United for Affordable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo.