Thursday, September 23, 2010

Solar for All?

Poor Families Can Go Solar Too, In California At Least
by Zachary Shahan September 23, 2010
Clean Technica

"Sustainability" is often thought of as an environmental buzz word, but when you delve into actual sustainability theory, you quickly find the idea that it's really about a proper balance between environmental needs, economic needs, and social equity. A program in San Diego I just found out about looks like it nails this balance.

The program is called MASH, or Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing, and it is using $108 million—a small portion of the $3.2 billion California Solar Initiative—to help put solar panels on low-income homes.

The MASH program's first solar installation was recently completed on Hacienda Townhomes, an affordable downtown housing complex owned and managed by the San Diego Community Housing Corporation. Some residents living there earn only $27,500 a year for a family of four.

This one project's environmental and economic benefits are substantial. The Hacienda Townhomes installation of 96 photovoltaic panels will create 34,726 kilowatt-hours of energy, cut electricity bills and, over 25 years, reduce CO2 emissions by 595 tons, "the equivalent of planting 23,812 trees or driving a small car over 2 million miles." The project created 5 temporary jobs and "justified" 3 permanent jobs.

Up to this point, the California Solar Initiative (CSI) has been taken advantage of primarily by wealthy California residents and has been criticized by those concerned about social equity. In reference to Governor Schwarzenegger's goal of creating 1 million solar homes in California, Mindy Spatt of the Utility Reform Network, a California consumer groups, said that CSI is more like "1 million solar homes for millionaires." MASH helps to address that issue. (Though, it seems to me that the portion of that CSI pie going towards MASH should be a little larger. As it is now, subtracting Hacienda Townhomes' 52 low-income units, that's 999,948 homes for millionaires.)

While solar for the rich may be more viable, the financial savings of solar for the poor are far more meaningful.

Omega Hatch, 23, is one of the residents of Hacienda Townhomes that has benefited from the new solar panels—she saw her August electricity bill fall from an average of $90 to $56. And she is extremely grateful for that. "Thank God," she told Greenwire, "because I could use the money elsewhere. I have a 7-year-old, he's about to go back to school. Any penny helps me get what I need to do for him."

In addition to this being a great boon for the low-income families that live in Hacienda Townhomes, it also happened to be the 10,000th solar installation in the San Diego Gas & Electric service area. Go San Diego!

I don't think I'm the only one who thinks we should have more such programs helping those most in need cut their electricity bills, clean their environments, and protect the global climate (I hope not). If you think a program like MASH should be implemented nationwide, don't forget to let your representatives in government know by signing the petition on the Clean Technica website.

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