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A $156M federal grant will soon make community solar in NV a reality

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Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
May 30, 2024

While rooftop solar has exploded in popularity among households looking to invest in renewable energy while saving money on electricity, high upfront costs have prevented lower-income residents from embracing the carbon saving technology.

But a $156 million federal grant to boost solar adoption for low-income Nevadan’s over the next five years offers a chance to change that.

Last month, the Nevada Clean Energy Fund was awarded the multi-million dollar “Solar for All” grant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to support community solar projects that benefit low-income households.

Nevada received the highest award amount per capita of any state. In fact, Nevada received the same award amount as Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania — states with significantly higher populations.

The program opens the doors for low-income residents and disadvantaged communities — those most impacted by climate change — to have access to solar energy without being financially burdened by prohibitive installation costs.

During a Joint Interim Standing Committee on Growth and Infrastructure Wednesday, Kirsten Stasio, the CEO of the Nevada Clean Energy Fund, said affordable housing developers and community solar developers could receive funding for projects as soon as December 2024.

“The opportunity before us is unlike one we’ve ever seen before,” Stasio said. “With these funds, we’re going to launch low-income solar programs for single family homes, affordable multifamily housing, as well as for community solar projects.”

The Nevada Clean Energy Fund was created by state statute in 2017 with the goal of providing financing and technical assistance for clean energy projects in Nevada, but statutory barriers and a lack of funding has prevented the fund from implementing large-scale community solar projects. 

Many Nevadan’s are unable to invest in rooftop solar because of the high upfront costs needed for installations. Renters in the state have also been sidelined by the solar boom due to a lack of solar infrastructure.

“Community solar is really critical to unlocking solar for low-income communities and particular renters, which make up a big portion of the population, and those renters don’t necessarily have control over the roof,” Stasio said during the Wednesday meeting.

Other aspects of community solar have discouraged many lower-income residents from participating, including long contracts for renters, sometimes lasting 30 years, and penalty fees for leaving a contract prematurely. 

Until 2021, Nevada statute also prohibited those who live in individually metered multifamily buildings from being able to benefit from solar on the rooftop of their building. Senate Bill 488 remedies that by allowing owners of apartments, multi-family homes and commercial buildings to take advantage of the net metering program for rooftop solar.

“Low income households in particular are often left behind in the clean energy transition, due to a lack of funding and technical assistance to access these funds. Yet, they’re the ones that need solar the most, and typically experience the highest energy cost burden,” Stasio said. 

A federal requirement under the $156 million dollar grant requires that any household benefiting from the funds must experience at least a 20% savings in energy costs. The Nevada program will partner with local governments, schools, nonprofits, tribes, and utilities to combine Solar for All funds with federal tax credits to build community solar projects that share the energy cost savings with low-income households.

The funding is part of a $7 billion federal grant program administered by the EPA and established using funds from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. 

Once the EPA reviews and approves recipient’s finalized documents, the Nevada Clean Energy Fund will be able to release the $156 million in funding for community solar developments in the state, said Stasio.

“We won’t be able to start drawing down funds until that happens, at least for significant program activities,” Stasio said.

Low-income single-family homes who want to take advantage of funds from the Nevada Clean Energy Fund will also be able to apply by 2025.

“We’re going to have two different options, an ownership option for households that have that capacity, and a lease option for households that don’t,” Stasio said.

Stasio said the Nevada Clean Energy Fund is currently working with regional housing authorities and major affordable housing developers in Nevada to identify opportunities to put solar on affordable housing.

The EPA grant builds on other funding recently awarded to the Nevada Clean Energy Fund, including a $7.7 million federal grant in February to purchase 25 electric school buses around the state.

“We can achieve this goal with no cost for the school district, so we’re already getting requests,” Stasio said.

“These electric school buses reduce maintenance costs by about $15,000 annually per bus, and they make children safer and free from harmful diesel air pollution that can cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses,” she continued.

That funding was awarded by the EPA’s Clean School Bus program, under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provided $5 billion to districts across the country to purchase zero- and low-emission school buses.

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This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.