GRID Alternatives’ Greschner discusses state, federal policy options for opening solar power access

Source: Monica Trauzzi, E&E • Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2016

With the price of solar power down significantly in recent years, how widespread is the use of solar in low-income communities and households? During today’s OnPoint, Stanley Greschner, vice president of government relations and market development at GRID Alternatives, discusses his organization’s new policy guide that seeks to open solar power and solar job access to low-income households throughout the United States.

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Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I’m Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Stanley Greschner, vice president of government relations and market development at GRID Alternatives. Stan, thanks for coming on the show.

Stanley Greschner: Thank you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Stan, GRID is releasing a low-income policy guide that is seeking to open access to solar power and solar jobs for tens of millions of low-income households across the U.S. With the price of solar down significantly over the last few years, what’s the current level of penetration of solar among low-income communities?

Stanley Greschner: As you’ve noted, the price of solar has come down and financing models have matured over the past several years, which has expanded solar to a broader and broader population, well beyond the early adopters from, you know, a decade ago. And what we’re seeing today is more policies being developed around the country that specifically target the underserved markets like low-income families and low-income communities. It’s hard to put a number on what the overall penetration is, but there are a number of — GRID Alternatives alone has served over 6,000 low-income families, single-family rooftops, as well as hundreds of families through our multifamily affordable housing program. But with over 22 million low-income single family owner-occupied households, and over 6 million units in multifamily affordable housing, not to mention the low-income rental units, the market opportunity is enormous. With the right policies and programs we can reach all of these families.

Monica Trauzzi: And then what are the job opportunities you believe exist?

Stanley Greschner: That’s the exciting part about all of these programs, the low-income solar programs, is that not only is it an opportunity to bring solar technology to low-income families, but it’s an opportunity to engage them also in the growing solar economy and the jobs that come with it. Many of the programs that have been developed, low-income programs, have integrated workforce development and job-training elements. California is a great example of that, and other states around — Colorado, the community solar projects have incorporated workforce development as well. So as the general market grows, installations grow. As the low-income solar market grows, we just see more and more opportunity for low-income communities to be participating in the solar job space. And with the right training and the right programming we can bring all of these elements together for low-income communities.

Monica Trauzzi: So specifically what are the policy recommendations you’re making for opening up access?

Stanley Greschner: We’re not making any specific one-size-fits-all policy recommendation. What we’ve done is looked at all of the — the various programs throughout the country that are reaching low-income families. And in every state, in every utility territory, in every region of the country there are different flavors of that. Some are incentive programs. Some leverage [solar renewable energy certificates]. Others — you know, on-bill financing — there are a lot of different mechanisms for providing the opportunity for low-income participation. Part of what we’ve done is highlighted all of those various options that are happening, as well as the underlying principles and guidelines that we believe any good low-income program should be built on.

Monica Trauzzi: Is this something that’s best developed on the state and local level? Why is some kind of federal, national action needed?

Stanley Greschner: It’s both. You know, as we’ve seen just with the general market, you know, you have to have the state commitment, often the regulatory framework for solar to be — for the solar economy to develop. States have the flexibility of doing rebate programs and they have their own incentives. But the federal government and the general market through federal ITC and others has also been a huge, you know, benefit to expanding access. So having federal support for scaling nationally removes state boundaries and the state-level, you know, funding barriers that I think only the federal government can overcome.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned financing mechanisms earlier. What types of consumer protections should there be?

Stanley Greschner: Consumer protection issues have been front and center in many of the conversations of these programs, especially programs that are being designed specifically to reach a low-income or vulnerable population. And they again take different forms, but you know, whether it’s having, you know, in California’s model a preapproved — you know, a standardized PPA model is one mechanism, or having very — or rules designed into the program, and they can be a wide range of things. But we’ve seen it done in many states where consumer protection issues are taken up in the program design and implementation phase.

Monica Trauzzi: So what are the implications of all of this for utilities and regulators?

Stanley Greschner: From the solar policy guide perspective we think it’s an opportunity to approach this subject of low-income solar access from a solutions-oriented position, as opposed to maybe looking at low-income customers as, you know, not being the early adopters, not being the early participants in this space, but looking at models that have been developed and tried and piloted throughout the country, and now turning that conversation into a solutions-oriented conversation. How do we scale this? How does this work — these models, you know, fit into our context? And develop the right program for that regulated utility territory.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we’ll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Stanley Greschner: Thank you very much — appreciate it.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We’ll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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