While renewable energy has the power to address many social issues beyond just the consumption of greenhouse gas-emitting fuels, the real-world application of solar and wind too often falls short of addressing these goals.
In Massachusetts, advocates are pushing state policy-makers to expand an existing programthat has not benefitted the state’s poorest residents.
Last fall, the state launched the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART)program to encourage the continued use of solar panels and increase solar capacity by up to 1,600 megawatts.
The program was designed to reach that goal through various incentive payments, including additional or higher compensation for solar projects that are located in brownfields, incorporate energy storage, serve low-income populations among other criteria.
However, advocates have noted that low-income populations are not being adequately served by the program, and comprise only about four percent of those who have benefitted from projects that have been approved so far, according to Energy News Network.
Advocates are proposing an “energy justice” option to address this shortfall.
This summer, the state conducted an official review required by statutes after the first 400 MW of capacity were approved under SMART. As part of that review, advocates submitted proposals to change the way low-income is determined to more accurately and inclusively capture qualifying residents who could benefit from solar projects.
Specifically, the proposal would have the state do away with the so-called R2 criteria for community solar projects in low-income neighborhoods. This practice qualifies projects for the solar incentives if more than half of the power generated is sold to households on a discount electricity rate.
But those who support the proposal say the R2 misses many potentially qualifying users of solar power. The proposal calls instead for a geographically–based approach, which utilizes demographic data about income, race and English language skills to identify neighborhoods at risk of negative environmental outcomes. Solar project planners could compare a resident’s street address to the environmental justice maps to determine eligibility. Additionally, under the new proposal, low-income customers would no longer need to sign a contract to buy power from solar projects receiving incentives.
The proposal was co-signed by 23 environmental groups, businesses and community organizations.