CARES Act Funding for Community Solar Access

The North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) is working on behalf of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to distribute funds from the federal CARES Act in order to provide community solar subscriptions to lower-income utility customers at four North Carolina municipal and cooperative utilities. This program, called Community Solar Access for Low and Moderate-Income Utility Customers, will provide a total of $166,400 to pre-pay for community solar subscriptions, which will be supplied by the participating utilities free of charge, and will save participating customers at least $15 a month on their electric bills for a period of 10 years.

Community solar programs allow people to purchase or subscribe to panels that are part of larger-scale solar projects in order to receive credit on their electric bill for the electricity that their panels generate. Community solar allows people that cannot install solar on their own homes or businesses to participate in the solar economy and share in the benefits of renewable energy development. Community solar is theoretically more accessible to lower-income people than is residential rooftop solar, as it lacks many of the barriers faced by rooftop solar, such as upfront costs and space requirements. 

However, community solar programs have often had difficulty reaching lower-income participants. While community solar programs can provide bill savings for their participants, the overall savings are usually relatively small, and can be of limited interest to people facing time constraints. Additionally, capacity for community solar projects is often snapped up quickly by particularly interested customers, leaving little room for people who do not follow utility program offerings closely. 

This program aims to address those barriers by pre-funding community solar subscriptions and reserving them for lower-income utility customers. The utilities receiving the funds will use existing income-qualified program participation data in order to identify eligible customers and then conduct outreach campaigns to get customers signed up for community solar subscriptions. 

The four utilities participating in this project are Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation, Fayetteville Public Works Commission, Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation, and Roanoke Electric Cooperative. These four utilities will use the program funding in order to provide a total of 94 customers with free community solar subscriptions.

This funding program builds on the success of an earlier program funded by the North Carolina Weatherization Assistance Program in 2019. The NCCETC-led program aims to extend the approach piloted by the WAP program in order to reach a higher number of customers and to encourage the continued expansion of community solar at North Carolina utilities.