Solar generation system additions to a home can be an expensive endeavor, typically running upwards of $20,000. While lower electricity bills are one of the major payoffs from installing solar panels and related items, the upfront investment is intimidating to some – and more than many people can afford.
To help with the steep costs for those looking to transition from traditional modes of electricity, San Diego Gas & Electric has started a new program that will help those San Diego residents who qualify – and are in “at-risk” communities as defined by the city – install solar at their homes at little or no cost.
The $10 million San Diego Solar Equity Program is part of the franchise Energy Cooperation Agreement SDG&E made in 2021 with the City of San Diego.
The energy cooperation agreement focuses on environmental and greenhouse gas reduction benefits, safety, equity and reliability. Ensuring equitable access to rooftop solar, was a key element of the franchise agreement between the city and SDG&E.
The program, which can be accessed at SDSolarEquity.org, will provide $1 million per year of shareholder funds over the next 10 years to offset the cost of solar installations for income-qualified homeowners.
More than half of the total program funds will go to low-income households as defined by the San Diego County area median income. The low-income limit for a family of four in 2022 is $104,100, the moderate-income limit is $128,300 or less.
Aiming for 100% Coverage
The program aims to cover 100% of solar installation costs for systems up to 6.5 kilowatts at $4/watt.
SDG&E CEO Caroline Winn said that it is important to the company that “the clean energy transition is inclusive.”
“All residents regardless of where they live and their socioeconomic status (should) have access to carbon-free electricity and the benefits it brings, such as cleaner air, which also leads to healthier communities,” Winn said.
The solar equity program will be rolled out in the coming months, says Benjamin Airth, senior distributed generation policy manager for the San Diego-based nonprofit Center for Sustainable Energy. The center, which has been around for 25 years and reaches people in 48 states, is designing and administering the program.
The Center for Sustainable Energy is currently reaching out to solar companies with an active license from the California Contractors State License Board to work with CSE-approved homeowners meeting the criteria.
Airth said that the program will allow people in communities most affected by pollution, those who face the highest risk from climate change and who historically have had lower access to renewable energy, to have the opportunity to install solar energy systems without the financial investment.
“There are great savings in the near term, especially if you get the system paid for,” Airth said. “With rising utility costs and rising temperatures, we’re seeing people in these neighborhoods that don’t have huge homes paying a large amount of money on their electricity bills. With solar, they’re going to get immediate savings.”
He said CSE is using a tool that is specific to the San Diego that shows by census tract which communities are most affected by pollution, climate and environmental changes the most, using an algorithm to glean information from the San Diego Climate Equity Index. Program participants must reside in an area of very low, low or moderate access to socioeconomic opportunities as defined by the index.
The program will also cover up to $3,500 for electrical panel upgrades for homes that need additional preparation for a solar installation. Many of the homes owned by qualified program participants have outdated electrical wiring and systems that would not work properly with the changes that the solar additions will bring.
“SDG&E shares the perspective of the city of San Diego and lots of jurisdictions about the need to expand access to clean electricity and solar to our residents and customers most heavily impacted by climate change and not able to afford to (transition),” said Scott Crider, SVP for External Affairs and Operations Support at SDG&E.
“We have a commitment to city of San Diego, being a good partner with the city, and we’ve been working on getting it set up for about a year now,” Crider said. “Through this partnership with CSE, we are thrilled to have finally gotten this off the ground. This is also something we strongly believe in.”
Crider said that SDG&E is “strongly supportive of expanded solar use by its customers” and said that San Diego is one of the highest capacity users of solar, with almost 20 percent of residential units having solar, and most of it coming over the last decade.
San Diego Gas & Electric
CEO: Caroline Winn
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
PARENT COMPANY: Sempra Energy
REVENUE: $819 million
SOCIAL IMPACT: $10 million San Diego Solar Equity Program will help those in lower-income areas install solar panels at little or no cost.
NOTABLE: SDG&E is committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.