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  • Writer's pictureKaya Williams

Here Comes the Sun☀️

Kaya Williams, Energy Navigator Fellow working with the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, writes about a new clean energy program designed to promote equal access to affordable energy while reducing pollution. Kaya provides readers with valuable information regarding energy burden equities. The grant funding will support lower-income communities access clean energy.


On Earth Day, the Biden Administration announced the recipients of the Solar for All grants, with Maine receiving $62 million for its proposal (Lakshmanan, 2024). The Solar for All program aims to reduce energy costs and pollution in underserved communities nationwide (Chemnick, 2024). 


Nationally, there is a disparity in energy burden, the amount of income one spends on energy bills, between low-income homeowners and moderate or high-income homeowners. This is the result of existing structural inequalities that disadvantage BIPOC and low-income households. High energy burdens can indirectly impact health, as homeowners will inadequately heat or cool their homes to save money. 


This trend is no different in the state of Maine. According to the DOE’s Low-Income Energy Affordability Data (LEAD) tool, the energy burden ranges from 1-4% for moderate and high-income households in Maine. In contrast, the energy burden for low-income households is between 6% and 11%. An energy burden between 6% and 10% is considered high, while one over 10% is considered severe (Drehobl et al., 2020). Therefore, the poorest Mainers must use a larger portion of their paycheck to meet their energy needs. 


This is where Maine’s Solar for All proposal comes in. It can help address energy burden inequity through the goals it outlines such as (Governor’s Energy Office, n.d.): 

  • State incentives for residential rooftop solar and energy storage 

  • Technical and financial assistance to help communities adopt co-op community solar 

  • Community solar and energy storage program aimed at supporting underserved households 


Since this is a federally funded program, it must follow the Justice40 Initiative’s guidelines. This type of targeted funding is essential as the transition towards clean and renewable energy continues across the state and nation. Leaving low-income individuals behind in the energy transition will only exacerbate existing inequities. For example, as the installation of solar panels increases, utility companies may raise the price of electricity as their demand declines. That leaves homeowners without the capital to switch with an increased energy burden.


Currently, there are no state-level incentives for solar installation. Homeowners can only receive a tax credit through the Residential Clean Energy Credit, which covers up to 30% of the project costs and is nonrefundable. While this is a great start, it is not enough of a financial incentive for low-income individuals to install solar panels, as it does not directly cover or lower project costs. 


Therefore, the funding Maine recently received will go a long way in making solar significantly more accessible. In the proposal, the state estimates that the outlined programs will serve around 38,000 low-income and historically underserved people. While the funding just came through, and the programs won’t be implemented immediately, this is an important step in Maine addressing energy disparity through an equity framework. 


You can check out the LEAD tool here to explore energy burden data in Maine and across the country.





References 

Chemnick, J. (2024, April 18). EPA to unleash $7B for low-income solar projects. E&E News; POLITICO. https://www.eenews.net/articles/epa-to-unleash-7b-for-low-income-solar-projects/


Drehobl, A., Ross, L., & Ayala, R. (2020). How High Are Household Energy Burdens? American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. https://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/u2006.pdf


Governor's Energy Office. (n.d.). Solar for All. Retrieved April 22, 2024, from https://www.maine.gov/energy/sites/maine.gov.energy/files/inline-files/Solar%20for%20All%20one%20pager_3.pdf


Lakshmanan, V. (2024, April 22). Biden-Harris Administration announces The Maine Governor’s Energy Office to receive over $62 million to deliver residential solar, lowering energy costs and advancing environmental justice across Maine. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/biden-harris-administration-announces-maine-governors-energy-office-receive-over-62


About Kaya

Kaya grew up in Buxton, Maine on an alpaca farm but now calls Portland home. She attended Colby College where she earned a bachelor's in environmental policy. During college she focused on marine science and policy, studying abroad at the School for Field Studies in the Turks and Caicos. After graduation she worked in the environmental education sector, first at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute as a LabVenture educator; and then teaching seventh grade science at Waynflete School. She is currently transitioning from education into advocacy and policy work. She is also working towards her Master’s in Environmental and Climate Policy from Vermont Law and Graduate School. She’s hoping to focus her degree on Environmental Justice. As a Resilience Corps Fellow, she’s excited to support communities in southern Maine as they adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. In her free time, she enjoys crafting, such as knitting and sewing. She is also an avid reader, with horror and mystery novels being her favorites!


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