CONWAY — The town’s Selectboard sent a letter to state leadership in an attempt to point out a problem many might notice.
The solar industry is expanding rapidly across the state and country, but it’s not necessarily accessible to all walks of life. Selectboard member Robert Armstrong said Massachusetts provides a lot of incentive for people to go solar, though they most often have to invest their own money. He said many cash out part of their retirement savings or take out loans to start solar projects.
This, Armstrong said, presents a problem for low-income people, those who rent and anyone living in a condominium.
“Their tax money is helping the people who can participate,” he said. “The system is set up, in a way, extremely unfairly.”
The letter is addressed to Gov. Charlie Baker, state House Speaker Robert DeLeo, state Senate President Karen Spilka and members of the state Legislature.
“Under the new state solar program, Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART), less than 3 percent of projects qualify as low-income, despite a statewide poverty rate over 10 percent. This does not capture whether those low-income projects saved money, how much and who benefited,” the letter reads. “Neither does it reflect the lack of accessibility of solar for those who are working class but above the poverty rate, renters, non-English speakers and others facing structural barriers to access. State solar policies effectively exclude approximately half the commonwealth’s population, despite every ratepayer paying into utility-run solar programs.”
The letter goes on to state, however, the problem is solvable. The state Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy has held a hearing on at least three bills aimed at making solar power more accessible to low- and moderate-income households. More information on those bills can be found at bit.ly/2ZHU59X, bit.ly/2ZAPWnW, bit.ly/2Le94z3 and bit.ly/2Zpgppr.
The letter also states the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center designs programs to explore and expand clean energy implementation around the state, but those programs typically focus on households only marginally excluded from solar energy.
“However, they have a special responsibility and the means to create mechanisms in these programs that overcome significant equity barriers related to class, race and language isolation,” the letter reads. “We ask that programs are designed in collaboration with excluded communities and constituencies that face the largest barriers to solar uptake.”
Residents do, though, have the option of getting their energy through a solar farm.
Nexamp, a company in downtown Boston, specializes in community solar farms, equally accessible to all. Communication Manager Keith Hevenor explained there is no sign-up cost, credit check or cancellation fee associated with a community solar farm — which feeds clean energy to the local electric grid — and anyone involved gets a guaranteed, fixed 15 percent discount on their monthly energy bill. Solar companies take advantage of incentives from the state to set up farms.
Hevenor said Nexamp has community solar farms in Whately, Hadley, Plainfield, Hatfield and Amherst.
Reach Domenic Poli at: firstname.lastname@example.org or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.