Brent Ritzel, a local solar energy expert, took our proposal for a renewable energy fund into the real world. What follows is his argument for why such a fund would overcome the limitations currently facing solar financing, particularly for low-income households, how it could work, and how it would impact the local economy.
Plan for a Municipal Renewable Energy Fund
presented at the Carbondale Spring “Presenting our Progress” event
by Brent Ritzel, Solar Project Developer, StraightUp Solar
Current State of Affairs: The Problem
In the face of our accelerating ecological crisis and impending climate catastrophe, especially given the recent conclusions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), giving us just 12 years to make dramatic and unprecedented changes to our global energy infrastructure, as a society it is imperative that we shift as rapidly as feasible from the dominate utilization of fossil fuels in our energy infrastructure to the usage of renewable forms of energy production.
Local Responsibility in Creating Solutions for Global Problem
It is the responsibility of municipalities to their local community members to prepare for the realities that lie ahead by implementing practical plans that will mitigate the known impacts of how we have traditionally been producing our energy, which now stands as the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. This means a rapid shift from fossil fuels usage in homes, businesses and city buildings, and ultimately in our transportation infrastructure.
An Essential Local Resource to Manifest Solutions
A One Million Dollar per year City of Carbondale Revolving Renewable Energy Fund could kick-start such a transition, creating more clean energy sources inside the city itself while building local renewable energy capacity in the form of a wide range of solar installation-related jobs that can never be outsourced.
The Solar Group Buy Program Solution
One effective and proven solution for creating the infrastructure and building the capacity required is Solar Group Buy Program.
Solar group buy programs are initiatives led by a non-profit and/or municipality to gather groups of people in a community together, teach them about nuts and bolts of solar through community presentations, then give residents and businesses a limited time frame to sign up to get solar installed on their rooftops at a standard discounted rate by a solar installer selected competitively via a Request For Proposals, (an RFP).
Group Buy Programs work by aggregating demand for solar in a specific small geographic area, such as a City or a County, achieving economies of scale. Group Buys lower the solar installers’ “soft costs” further by providing up-front customer education en masse, leading to a higher-than-average conversion rate for solar leads. Homes and business owners see lower prices for their solar array, and communities move toward achieving their sustainability goals.
Other Relevant Localities that have Utilized Solar Group Buy Programs
Several leading Illinois municipalities and counties have already stepped up and engaged in successful Solar Group Buy Programs to accelerate the deployment of small scale residential and business solar installations. Urbana-Champaign alone has seen to the installation of 183 systems over the past three years from group buy programs and are currently engaged in their fourth annual program. These systems combined will produced more than 2 million kWh per year and over the next 30-years will be saving local community members in excess of $8.6 million on their utility bills.
Metro East Illinois, including Madison, St. Clair and Monroe Counties, has seen the installation of 107 systems over the past three years from group buys and are also currently engaged in their fourth annual program, saving community members in excess of $5.3 million over the next 30-years.
Bloomington-Normal has seen the deployment of 61 systems over the past two years from group buys and are currently on their third annual program. These community members will be saving more than $4.5 million over the next 30-years.
The most important takeaway is that each of these households will save between $800 and $1,500 per year on their utility bills, keeping the dollars earned in the pockets of the people that earned it.
The City of Carbondale has twice been approached regarding launching Group Buy Programs, but both times have made clear that if it required any City Staff time at all, that they weren’t interested. However, all that is required their endorsement, not their time. As Carbondale Spring has already demonstrated, we are more than willing to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting work at no cost to the City.
Public Opinions Regarding of Solar Group Buy Programs
Solar Group Buy Programs have already been completed successfully nine times in Illinois (and 25 times throughout the Midwest) primarily via the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA). A survey of past program participants shows that:
74% thought it was important that the program is managed by a non-profit,
83% found the educational solar power hours to be informative, and
84% indicated they are more likely to pay attention to energy policy issues
due to their participation in the program. Additionally,
67% said it was important that a group buy program has the support of the
Buckminster Fuller’s Challenge
During 1965 while working on his World Game as a resident of Carbondale, Illinois, Buckminster Fuller challenged all of us to: “Make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperative, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
With this in mind, Solar Group Buy Programs have been falling somewhat short on this promise…
Shortcomings of Solar Group Buy Programs
One major limitation with the Solar Group Buy Programs as they have been implemented by the MREA so far is that they have been leaving low-income households out of the equation, as paying for these systems has fallen exclusively on the home and business owner.
Residents of Carbondale face the unique economic challenge of the City having the lowest annual median household income, at less than $18,000, of all cities of 20,000 or more people in the entire United States.
Vision of Modified Solar Group Buy Programs
To ameliorate this shortcoming, we at Carbondale Spring have envisioned a Modified Solar Group Buy Program.
The key feature of a Modified Solar Group Buy Program would be to create a Revolving Renewable Energy Fund that would subsidize solar for low-income individuals and families. Low-income solar candidates would be identified through a vetting process that would manifest a list of “shovel-ready” low-income residents.
Group Buy participants not in need of economic assistance will be given the opportunity (and the encouragement) to donate their Program Rebate and / or a portion of their Illinois Shines incentive to the Renewable Energy Fund.
Additionally, the Modified Solar Group Buy Program would allow for the education and training of solar installers and electricians thru paid apprenticeships with the aim to build locally-based solar installation capacity via a worker-owned solar cooperative. Solar apprentices will have paid internships at living wages ($15/hour for installer, $25/hour for electrician), with 1 worker being trained on each installation job.
This would further enhance the manifestation and deployment of locally developed intellectual properties, such as the solar tree design and large-scale parking lot solar racking solutions based upon Buckminster Fuller’s octet truss spaceframe design. These local intellectual properties can be scaled up to create solutions for deploying solar not only regionally, but potentially worldwide.
The Benefits of Establishing a Revolving Renewable Energy Fund in Combination with a Modified Solar Group Buy Programs include…
Helping mitigate climate change impacts by tangibly building local solar capacity.
Providing paid training for local installers and electricians to grow a local workers-owned solar cooperative.
Developing and bringing to fruition local solutions that are internationally deployable.
Delivering solar to nearly 400 low-income households and saving these homeowners more than $1 million in combined utility bills in five short years, about $1,000 per household per year, through the creation of the Revolving Renewable Energy Fund.
A one-million-dollar Renewable Energy Fund over the first five years alone would bring in more than $3.6 million of Federal tax and State rate-payer funds into our local community in the support of solar development.
The bottom line is that a $1 million per year Revolving Renewable Energy Fund in combination with a Modified Solar Group Buy Program would allow us to bring solar to every owner-occupied home in Carbondale in just 20 years.
In the process it would allow our community to create and support a 32-person local worker-owned solar cooperative over those two decades. These jobs would not just provide a sustainable living wage for these community members, it would also create an opportunity for every single employee-owner to build wealth and live a quality of life that we all deserve as residents of Carbondale.
Questions or Comments?
Below is the original outline for our Renewable Energy Fund initiative, published February of 2019
In the face of climate catastrophe, we need to rapidly shift from fossil fuels in our household, business, and city energy use. A city renewable energy fund could kick-start such a transition, creating local employment and more clean energy sources inside the city itself. The average solar household project costs around $25,000. After solar tax credits, the average household solar installation is $11,214 – $14,406. With a $1,000,000/year renewable energy fund, the city could fund about 70 such projects each year. That number could increase if half of those funds were set aside for matching grants, subsidizing those homeowners who want solar and have the means to pay for it in part.
Initiating such a project would create a huge number of local solar installation jobs, and begin the process of transitioning Carbondale into a city that is generating its own, clean electricity.
In the first year of the Carbondale Spring, the city will:
- Create a city renewable fund to support, in full or in part, solar and other energy-saving projects in households, businesses, and city buildings.
- Employ regional solar and other businesses to execute these projects, on the condition that they hire and train local workers.