At the end of May 2019, the Dept. of Energy Resources (DOER) announced an agreement to incentivize projects in municipal light plant geographies under the SMART program. The incentives are different based on the amount of funding pledged by each municipality with total funding announced here for each. The program will incentivize projects by buying down roughly 1/3 of the project cost with a $1.20/w upfront incentive for projects < 25 kW-DC, which covers the typical size for households, nonprofits and small businesses. This program operates on a first come first serve basis so anyone considering a project in a municipal light plant should reach out here as soon as possible!
By: Isaac Baker
UPDATE - MAY 23, 2019. Bipartisan group of senators start to look at proposing longer term extensions to clean energy tax credits, including the investment tax credit for solar, which will be a top priority in the coming months.
Business owners, nonprofits and homeowners are moving quickly to take advantage of one of the most lucrative clean energy policies, the Solar Investment Tax Credit, on track to step down in 2020.
This article covers that lucrative policy — the 30% federal tax credit — which has been the most important driver for the economics of solar PV technology in the U.S. since it was enacted in 2006. The first thing to know is that there are two tax credits provisions for solar PV in the tax code: the Business Energy Investment Tax Credit (IRC Section 48) for businesses and nonprofits and the Investment Tax Credit (IRC Section 25D) for residential installations. Both policies provide a credit valued at 30% of the total installed cost of the system (including equipment, labor, overhead, etc.) to the owner of the system.
This policy has even helped countless nonprofits and businesses who either don’t pay federal taxes or don’t have tax liability, but are able to see meaningful savings by “selling” the tax credit on a market that has formed around this policy. Through Resonant Energy’s Hybrid Ownership Program, your organization can exchange the tax credit for a discount on the total solar array cost.
In 2015, the tax credits for solar were set to expire and Congress passed an omnibus energy bill that extended the tax credit for both solar and wind (while also opening up public lands for oil exploration as the compromise). This extension came with a built-in sunset, on the eve of which we now stand in 2019. The full schedule for non-residential projects will be a step down from 30% to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, and 10% in 2022, where the credit will rest until policy makers go back to the negotiating table. Residential projects will follow the same schedule, except the credit will go to 0% in 2022 (Fig 1).
As this schedule steps down, one of the key questions for projects is how you secure your place in one year or the next. The IRS has issued a ruling (Notice 2018-59) determining that the project owner must have spent at least 5% of the cost of the project in order to secure the value attributable to a given tax year (this ruling is known as the “safe harbor” provision). This can most easily be demonstrated by signing an agreement in 2019 and making at least one milestone payment towards your project to ensure that you can claim the full 30% tax credit value — even if the system is not ultimately placed in service until 2020.
As you consider your options, Resonant Energy is here to help you navigate the solar process with detailed design support, competitive bidding, and policy knowledge and ensure that you get an optimal financial outcome with your system. Learn more about our projects here and let us know when you’re ready to take the next step for your organization.
How did the tax credit originally get passed?
The solar tax credit was first passed with the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (under the George W. Bush administration). The tax incentive was extended from its original end date just a few years later in 2008 as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, often referred to as “TARP” funding, named after the section called the Troubled Assets Relief Program. This policy extended the credit through 2016, at which point it was once again extended with its full 30% value through 2020, as noted in the article above.
Can the tax credit carry forward if I don’t use it all in one year?
Yes, the tax credit can carry forward, meaning that if your organization does not have sufficient tax liability to use up the credit in the first year you can claim the difference on the following year’s tax return (and so on). However, there is no specific guidance as to the treatment of unclaimed credits once the ITC fully sunsets, which may be as soon as 2022. While you may be able to roll your credits over beyond that, it is best to be conservative and to ensure you can use your tax credit value by 2022.
How do I file for the tax credit?
Residential: Complete IRS Form 5965 to demonstrate the amount of qualifying solar expenditure you’ve made
Add your renewable energy credit information to your typical form 1040
When does the tax credit get “generated”?
You are eligible for your solar tax credit as soon as your array is “placed in service.” This means that system must have received all necessary permission from local inspectors and the utility. The utility grants you “Permission to Operate” (PTO) after its inspection, after which point you can turn on the array. This is the date from which you can claim your credit. For example, if you sign a contract in December 2019 but the system isn’t operational until February 2020, you must claim the tax credit in your 2020 return.
Note: Resonant Energy strives to provide clients with top-tier guidance on solar PV. However, we are not tax specialists and what we have written should not take the place of advice from a tax professional. We recommend that you consult your advisor before taking the next step on solar to ensure that these policies work for your organization.
By Isaac Baker, President of Development
Building on the long struggles of the environmental, economic, and racial justice movements, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and MA Rep Ed Markey are challenging our elected leaders to commit to a new vision for how we are going to rapidly respond to climate change. This broad framework, called the Green New Deal, is a 10-year plan to transition America to a just, prosperous and sustainable economy. And in doing so, provide a decent paying job to everyone who takes part.
While many Democrats and Republicans are still grappling with the feasibility of aggressive policy demands of the Green New Deal, the important task at hand is to build the base needed to achieve this ambitious goal. That’s why we join in this moment to celebrate a climate platform that is grassroots led and fighting for the urgent demands of the most affected communities.
Four core goals of the Green New Deal include:
Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers
Create millions of good, high-wage jobs
Invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century
Promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing the historic oppression of frontline and vulnerable communities
How can we as individuals and as the solar industry be the leaders that this movement calls for? We do not need to wait for congress to pass legislation to start bringing the benefits of clean energy to underserved communities. We can begin immediately to make sure that the transition to clean energy is one that is just and centered around frontline and vulnerable communities. We take on this challenge not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is already within reach.
Here’s how we propose we get there:
PRINCIPLES FOR LOW INCOME SOLAR INCLUSION IN MA
Equity: Increase power within low-income (LI) communities so that they do not continue to be disproportionately left out of the clean energy movement.
Ensure that the social and financial benefits of solar in the Commonwealth are as accessible to low-income residents (<80% state median income) as middle and high-income residents.
Ensure that compensation to LI residents for participating in solar projects is commensurate with their greater exposure to risk, relative to middle and high-income residents.
Increase the visibility of solar jobs by building projects in LI communities, and support local residents’ access to those jobs by supporting solar businesses that serve and hire from LI communities.
Responsiveness: Create a more inclusive strategy to write policy and analyze results.
Use incentive structures to prioritize projects that directly and substantially reduce LI residents’ energy costs.
Ensure that policy is responsive to LI residents’ circumstances by soliciting and incorporating feedback from people who live in LI communities; provide education and compensation as needed to support this process.
Use solar projects as material evidence of LI communities’ inclusion in the transition to clean energy to foster residents’ engagement with the industry.
Efficiency: Let’s tweak the existing market to fully serve the communities that have been left out.
Empower LI residents to participate directly in the same market as higher income residents; avoid pushing vendors to segregate offerings for low and high-income customers.
Encourage project structures that allow owners of solar projects to allocate value to LI residents without having to recover costs from residents.
Design incentives that remove barriers to LI inclusion, rather than adding new ones through restrictive reporting and qualification requirements (e.g, use environmental justice census tracts to qualify participants rather than R-2 rate class).
September 16, 2017
BOSTON— Resonant Energy hosted the Sun For All Celebration in Codman Square on Saturday September 16th with Social Saturdays, marking the close of the first low-income accessible solar campaign in Dorchester. Four months ago, Resonant Energy launched Codman Square Goes Solar in partnership with the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Second Church in Dorchester, Co-op Power, Epiphany School, the Dorchester YMCA, and the Codman Square Neighborhood Council. By the end of the summer, the campaign signed up 35 households a 5 nonprofits to install rooftop solar systems. Using Resonant Energy’s new solar hosting model, this campaign was the first of its kind to include households and nonprofits regardless of income or credit history.
“It was great to be part of a group that just kept pressing our way and believing that our community deserves the same access to clean and affordable energy as any other community,” said keynote speaker Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the Minister of Ecological Justice at Bethel A.M.E. “I’m excited not just because of what we’ve done in the past year but because of how this is growing.”
Read the full press release here.
Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, a Class of 2009 Barr Fellow, shares three lessons and a new video documenting a novel collaboration of three churches committed to action on climate change and equity.
Three Boston congregations recently joined forces to put solar panels on their rooftops, capable of producing 70 kilowatts of clean energy to power our congregations. This is equivalent to the amount of electricity required to power about eight homes. Just as the project was getting started, cuts to the state solar compensation program almost killed the project, but we persevered through anyway.
I’m incredibly proud of Second Church (Dorchester), the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin (South End), and Bethel AME Church (Jamaica Plain), and the staff at Resonant Energy, for our collective hard work and determination to make this project possible.
As people of faith we are asking the question: how can we be stewards of the earth and tackle urgent problems like climate change while also addressing equity issues? Solar on our churches is one great way to start. Our congregation has already invested in exploring how to reduce our impact on the planet in many ways, including water conservation, recycling, and energy efficiency. We saw playing a leadership role in solar energy as another way to walk the talk.
As people of faith we are asking the question: how can we be stewards of the earth and tackle urgent problems like climate change while also addressing equity issues? Solar on our churches is one great way to start.
In addition to producing clean energy, a solar installation has many other benefits: it shows us how solar works, lets our community members and our leaders experience it, and illustrates how clean energy can provide additional benefits to our community, like good jobs. This is why we chose solar installers based on their track record of hiring people of color, including someone who lives right in our church’s neighborhood. I’m excited to share this video that we produced to document the project:
In reflecting on the project, which took about 15 months, we learned many things. Here are my three main takeaways from the project:
First, we must take leadership. Our project allows our churches to demonstrate how to contribute to reducing pollution, increasing resilience, and bringing economic benefits to our communities. We learned lessons that we can share with other churches and institutions that want to contribute to clean energy solutions and produce local energy. We are also helping our congregations to think more about the impact that our energy use has on the planet—and on people. We also thought a lot about how local projects like this one catalyze excitement and a sense of ownership, demonstrating what we can do when we work together collectively. People are so proud of our leadership role.
Similarly, it is important to provide tangible local examples for everyone in our community to see that what is possible. Local projects can catalyze excitement and a sense of ownership. Addressing climate change can seem like an overwhelming task for an individual or a congregation, and many people think that small actions don’t make a difference—but I firmly believe that they do. We must have examples in our communities—all of them—to show that clean energy is readily available, affordable, and accessible. We need more churches, businesses, institutions, public agencies, and others to use their buying power to show that this is possible.
Third, the “just transition” to clean energy must be a priority for everyone working to address climate change. To rapidly deploy the amount of clean energy that is needed to meet our climate goals, we must work together to ensure that all members of our community can share in the benefits of clean energy. It is my view that when we are working on clean energy policies and projects, we must be truly inclusive and make sure that communities are driving progress together. And we must understand that climate progress without good jobs, safe housing, and access to health care leaves many people out.
I’m a climate activist. I recognize that putting up solar panels on a few churches is just one step; we have many, many more to go. But this project allows people to see that each of us can be—and must be—part of the green revolution, for our planet and for our neighbors.
This project allows people to see that each of us can be—and must be—part of the green revolution, for our planet and for our neighbors.
Next, we’re going to:
- Help our members learn more about what they can do to reduce their energy use and invest in renewable energy to keep our momentum going.
- Share the video with other congregations to encourage them to go solar. We shared it in March for a gathering of 23 congregations and we are scheduled to share with other local and national faith gatherings this year.
- Seek solutions for more challenging questions like: how can we get the solar revolution to reach renters and low-income communities? How do we get more solar panels in our community on other buildings?
- Educate policymakers and local leaders. We have joined with other congregations and nonprofits to support policies that provide strong incentives for low-income shared solar. We are proud that state Representative Russell Holmes and state Senator Chang-Díaz (each has one of our churches in his or her district) are stepping forward to lead on these issues.
As my friend Alphonse Knight of Second Church in Dorchester said, “the Church is the foundation of the community; it’s where people grow and develop values. When something positive happens here, everyone in the community sees it. Now, we can see the church’s commitment to stewardship right here on our roof.”
As faith leaders, we will keep working to ensure that everyone benefits from the green revolution—especially those who are hit hardest by climate change while contributing least to the problem. We hope that you will join us.
Reverend Mariama White-Hammond is a Barr Fellow (2009) and recently started a fellowship with the Green Justice Coalition, a Barr grantee. Her current fellowship focuses on organizing communities of faith, particularly black churches, to engage on climate issues.
May 2, 2017 - Sami Grover
One of the things that has always interested me about solar—and other clean tech—is the potential for them to become contagious. While few of us have the power, or the inclination, to build a coal plant just because the neighbors down the road have one, the distributed nature of solar means that one installation can lead to many more as neighbors get inspired by what other neighbors are doing.
There's still one impediment to this though. And that's money. Despite rapid declines in the cost of solar power, upfront costs can be prohibitive for many—even if there are long-term savings to be had.
Enter Resonant Energy. Based in Boston, this social enterprise is working on building coalitions of community partners to plan, finance and install solar projects. One of its flagship efforts—a successful Interfaith Community Solar Campaign—has already brought solar to Second Church in Dorchester, Bethel A.M.E., and the Church of Saint Augustine and Saint Martin. Because upfront costs are covered by the project, churches start saving from day one.
Now, that project is inspiring Codman Square Goes Solar, a neighborhood-wide effort which will see residents sign up to host solar on their rooftops at no cost to them. The effort has caught the attention of the mayor, winning the Buildings and Energy category of the city's Greenovate Awards, and is now aiming to install solar on 25 private homes in the surrounding neighborhood, three small commercial businesses, and three more houses of worship too.
It's exciting stuff. Much like Re-Volv's community solar seed fund, or solar barn raisings and voluntary gas taxes, I suspect we'll see many more community-based solar efforts like this as solar costs continue to fall.
March 18, 2017
DORCHESTER, MA - On Saturday, March 18, members of Second Church in Dorchester and other community leaders gathered to launch Codman Square Goes Solar, an initiative focused on expanding access to solar to low-moderate income homeowners. The initiative includes coalition members such as Second Church in Dorchester, Codman Square Neighborhood Council, Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, Community Improvement Association, Resonant Energy, and the Boston Metro East Community Energy Co-op.
As part of the 2016 Boston Interfaith Community Solar Project, Second Church in Dorchester recently installed a solar array on their historic church building. Alphonse Knight, a longtime member of the church and Chair of the Board of Co-op Power, remarked, “We have have been working for over five years to bring good green jobs to our neighborhoods here in Dorchester, and at the same time offer clean energy programs that save people money. The Codman Square Goes Solar Initiative has the potential to be our most significant project to date.”
Read the full press release here.
Feburary 9, 2017 - Kevin Sandoval
I have few memories of my native country, Honduras. The rustling of mango trees, the relief provided by a cool rain shower, and the smell of coffee brewing on the stovetop. I left Honduras when I was five years old for the United States, a place my mom called the land of opportunity. She knew that to be successful there, I would have to work hard even as a child. I was encouraged to read as many books as possible. It was challenging and sometimes frustrating, but from this young age, I gained an appreciation for education and lifelong learning.
When it came time for college, however, I was less prepared than I expected. Due to a misunderstanding with my FAFSA, my college offered me significantly less financial aid than I needed, so I found myself scrambling to pay for tuition while trying to find my way in this new environment. Unhealthy habits kicked in, I was underperforming in my classes, and I wasn’t able to make the most of the learning opportunity. At one point, I sat down and asked myself, what is driving me? What am I passionate about? All I could think about was my dad’s voice saying “If you don’t know, then who will?” I decided to take some time away from school to reevaluate my path.
The moment I came in for an info session at Year Up, I knew it was the place for me. Year Up is an organization that provides young adults with technical and professional skills training, mentoring, and an internship experience in the corporate setting. The program introduced me to the Information Technology field, and taught me to take initiative for seeking out opportunities for growth and leadership.
During my time at Year Up, I provided my input to help build the curriculum for a new frontline sales training track and served as a Student Ambassador, promoting Year Up to community partners and potential students. With this leadership opportunity, I spoke at events about our country’s Opportunity Divide as well as the positive impact Year Up has had on me, my peers, and the employers we work with. While I gained professional skills, confidence, and workplace experience through Year Up, I knew that realized after the program that IT wasn’t my true passion.
I graduated from the program with the increased clarity about my future – I knew I wanted to work for a company with a meaningful, social mission but did not know how to enter this space. Then, just as I was beginning to plan for life post-Year Up, someone I had met at a networking event introduced me to Resonant Energy, a Boston-based renewable energy startup that aims to bring 100% clean energy to 100% of people. After meeting with the founders of the organization, I was offered a job there. My job at Resonant Energy is to build partnerships with mission-aligned organizations and community groups, so that we can help expand solar power to all communities regardless of race or class. In just a few months, I’ve had a chance to meet with leaders from nonprofits, community development corporations, municipalities, and community groups and collaborate with them to make renewable energy accessible to all.
Through this work, I have been able to pursue my passion for giving back to my community, and wholeheartedly believe in bringing sustainability and economic opportunity to all. I have been able to develop skills such as outreach, community organizing, and business development, and have gained firsthand experience working at an innovative startup social enterprise. It’s VERY hard work, but it’s the best job I have ever had. I love my team and the work I do. It’s rewarding, challenging, inspiring, and beneficial all at the same time. For the first time in my life, I’ve felt that I can relate to the saying “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
It’s important to me that we’re working to make Chelsea, my home community, into a more just and sustainable city. With Resonant’s Solar Access Program, we are creating opportunities for Chelsea residents to install solar panels on their roof for free, and participate in a local transition to renewable energy.
I’ve had an incredible opportunity to be with this company from the start, and see what it’s like to build a social enterprise. Now, I know that whatever I do next, I am committed to tackling the pressing issues the world faces. I think more young adults who don’t follow the traditional educational path should consider working for social enterprise startups -- it’s great a way to learn what it takes to build a company and pursue meaningful work. At the same time, more social enterprises should consider hiring young adults like me, who can provide perspective and connection to particular communities.
I have been fortunate to have several opportunities that have allowed me to grow as a person and a young professional. With the support of friends, family, Year Up, and Resonant Energy, I’ve become more aware of my own mental constraints that have previously prevented me from reaching my full potential. With this clarity and a better understanding of my passions and goals, I am ready to return to college to gain skills that will set me up for success.
It’s my firm belief that expanding access to education and skill development is essential to addressing the issues of inequity in our society. And I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to pursue new knowledge and self-improvement opportunities constantly. As Nelson Mandela puts it, “In life I never lose. I either win or I learn.” I know that I must continue to learn in order to remain relevant in today’s changing world.
In the future, I intend to bring together individuals who are motivated to make this world a better place and address the economic and environmental issues that affect local communities. I hope that more young people pursue education and work that aligns with their passions, and that more companies across the country will give them opportunities to grow into productive, innovative members of the workforce.
Kevin Sandoval is a Community Partnerships Associate at Resonant Energy and a Year Up graduate.
February 2, 2017 - James Hobin
A lot is happening in Codman Square. For example, the Dorchester Winter Market now is open every Saturday at the Great Hall. I went there last week to procure locally produced foodstuff, including organic veggies, kielbasa pierogi, French baguettes, and a slab of chocolate cake to die for.
My visit happened to coincide with a casual theater event. Actress Valerie Foxx was in character as Colonial Boston’s Phillis Wheatley; she mixed with the crowd, reciting wondrous poetry and telling the extraordinary story of the slave girl who became a great writer.
That was followed by another chance encounter, my first introduction to community-shared solar power. A representative from Codman Square Goes Solar was in the Great Hall to shine a light on the subject and sign me up for a workshop.
The idea was hatched across the street at Second Church last year when church members were looking for ways to reduce operating costs. From there, the Boston Interfaith Community Solar Project was formed, and now Second Church is going solar, and Codman Square Goes Solar is offering to provide solar panels to the surrounding community.
Second Church is the real thing, a gem of New England period architecture built in 1806. The rough-hewn outline of the building is weathered and worn, but it stands with great majesty amid the clamoring traffic, a grandiloquent vision rising to portentous size like a mighty wooden sailing ship tethered to its time.
The distinctive shape of the lantern atop the Second Church steeple is a prominent feature that is visible on the horizon from many points around Dorchester. Now, in close proximity to this steeple, which houses a Paul Revere Bell and the four-dial clock gifted by Walter Baker in 1852, the church roof will be overlaid with solar panels.
So the venerable Second Church is leading the way, and the Codman Square Neighborhood Council and the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation (NDC) are facilitating Boston-based solar developer Resonant Energy’s efforts to bring Codman Square Goes Solar to area residents.
Resonant Energy provides solar arrays at no cost. In return for a rooftop lease, participants receive maintenance-free solar roof panels, the installation of which promises savings of up to 30 percent on energy bills. While the program is set in Codman Square, anyone from Dorchester can apply.
Usually, solar companies stay away from flat roofs; their model services the single- family home in the country, not three-decker rooftops in Dorchester. But Resonant focuses on historically underserved communities that do not fit the mold of solar clients.
The company runs open workshops for solar training as part of a campaign to identify a bundle of homes interested in going solar. They are aiming to get 25 homes ready by the middle of this month. By installing solar panels on many homes at the same time, they can keep costs down. The challenge is to divide benefits among landlords and renters. Instead of making lease payments to you in cash, Resonant Energy pays you with solar electricity produced by your roof’s system. The power that doesn’t go to you is then sold to community-based nonprofits.
One important component of this enterprise is the increased visibility of clean energy within the neighborhoods. It gets the word out – a meaningful step in the struggle for information and inclusive access to opportunity.
Clean energy is a part of 21st century economics. We have to innovate ways to get the community involved to ensure that ordinary voices are not being excluded from the policy-making process.
Community-shared solar power helps to bring energy equity to those who need it the most.
Codman Square Goes Solar is the type of pro-active planning that meshes gears with the Talbot Norfolk Triangle Eco-Innovation District. The TNT-EID is Boston’s first eco-innovation district. TNT is west of Codman Square between Talbot Avenue, Norfolk Street, and New England Avenue (along the train tracks). Here are the numbers: 13 blocks; 46 acres; 252 homes; 525 housing units; 1500 residents.
The EID is one of many projects currently under way at The Codman Square NDC. Partnering with Talbot-Norfolk Neighbors United, the focus has been on four areas:
(1) Energy retrofits (existing structures). The goal is to save money – over 50 percent of the homes in TNT have now been insulated to prevent heat loss.
(2) Transit Oriented Development (transit equity). Some 40 percent of people living near the Fairmount Line work downtown. In the next six years more than 100 units of affordable home ownership or rental will be built.
(3) Solar (rooftop). Generating solar power and sending it back to utility gains credit for residents.
(4) Green Infrastructure (street trees, rain gardens, bike lanes, traffic calming). This helps to implement the city’s Vision Zero goal on serious crashes and traffic fatalities. TNT is one of two sites in the city piloting the Boston Traffic Department’s Slow Streets program.
Here is an excerpt from the TNT info sheet: “…residents and partners are creating tangible quality-of-life improvements on the ground while also furthering the city of Boston’s ambitious climate change and sustainability goals. The TNT-EID is also leading the way in using LEED-ND as a framework for comprehensive sustainability planning in an existing low-income urban neighborhood.”
“LEED” stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a US-based rating system that integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism, and green building into a national system for neighborhood design. The Codman Square NDC is aiming for a Platinum designation from LEED-ND (ND stands for Neighborhood Development), the highest possible rating for planned efficiency standards. Designations will be known by summer’s end.
In addition to Codman Square Goes Solar, the Codman Square NDC is putting solar on 18 of its buildings, some of which will produce more electricity than needed. That excess power will go to low-income residents in those properties, further reducing their cost of living.
One thing not mentioned above is the 20,000-square-foot urban agriculture site on Ballou Avenue. In the past two years, 1,000 pounds of organic produce have been grown there for the Codman Square Farmers Market. Everything happening here is part of a systematic effort toward greater sustainability, affordability, with no displacement, more access to jobs, and a greener, healthier environment for the people who live here now.
In recognition of the Eco-Innovation’s District progress and potential, the Codman Square NDC was honored by Mayor Walsh’s Greenovate program in late May 2014. Theirs is a replicable model for other communities to leverage existing assets to improve quality of life. We can take a moment to thank them for showing the way, but there is no time to rest.
The rate structure for solar energy now in place discriminates against community- shared solar projects like Codman Square Goes Solar. Low-income communities and individual homes suffer the most for being in the “least organized” category. The community-shared solar constituency is no match for large commercial solar farms. The Holmes Bill (an act relative to solar power in environmental justice and urban communities), now being sponsored by state Reps. Russell Holmes and Michelle Dubois and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, is designed to restore balance to the equation.
Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu says it best: “Changing the energy market won’t happen with a top-down approach; it will only happen with your support and action.”
The sun beats down on a community faith group outside a church in Eastern Massachusetts. It’s quite a diverse bunch; faces of all ages, genders, and ethnicities crowd the scene. It’s not the beautiful weather that has brought them together here today, but instead they gather to celebrate the installation of solar panels on their church’s roof.
The installation of this modern infrastructure wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Resonant Energy—an innovative startup that allows any building — regardless of the owners' income or credit score — to host solar panels in exchange for clean power and energy savings. This innovation expands the solar market to the 51% of U.S homeowners who aren't served by traditional solar offerings.
Resonant Energy fills a role that’s sorely needed for households that lack the capital to purchase solar panels or the credit to be approved for a payment plan.
By grouping many households together and purchasing panels in bulk, Resonant Energy cuts costs to such an extent that they can generate surplus power—power which can then be sold to local nonprofit organizations.
The result is that any homeowner can save money on their utilities, nearby community organizations can purchase affordable renewable power, and the planet grows a little bit greener.
After several successful projects in the Boston area, Resonant Energy is now opening their doors to the New York City market with a new office in the Urban Future Lab, a Brooklyn-based tech incubator.
Their approach to taking New York City into the age of renewables is to partner with local organizations and non-profits. Among their partners is Co-op Power, a consumer-owned clean energy co-operative. Co-op Power’s new organization, The New York City Community Energy Co-op, will launch later this winter.
he partnership between Resonant Energy and Co-op Power comes from a shared history of working together in solar energy. Resonant Energy founders Ben Underwood and Isaac Baker once led the Community Shared Solar division Co-op Power, where they further developed their expertise in solar development. Another of Resonant Energy's partners is the Long Island Progressive Coalition, which is signing up nonprofits for the PowerUp Solar Long Island campaign.
It’s becoming apparent that access to clean energy is more of a necessity than a luxury. Resonant Energy is working to make it a right rather than a privilege. Learn more at resonant.energy.
Serious fans of renewable energy already know the economic case for installing solar panels on your roof: saving anywhere from $50 to $150 per month on bills, increasing your home value, tax incentives—and that’s not including the environmental benefits. For the affluent family, solar panels are becoming an obvious choice, but for the 40 million Americans living below the poverty line, despite the long-term financial benefits, solar panels are a luxury they can’t afford. Enter Resonant Energy: a new solar company that launched in August 2016 with a “Solar Access Program” to expand solar energy's upsides to everyone, regardless of “income, race, or creed.” They’re currently developing shared solar arrays in communities around Massachusetts and New York.
Resonant Energy’s goal isn’t only to change the dialogue around who solar is for, but also who it’s by. The company endeavors to create a staff of at least 50 percent women and people of color who live within the communities Resonant serves. That's an attractive opportunity, considering solar is one of the fastest growing job sectors in America, with anticipated growth of over 100 percent in the next nine years.
We caught up with Isaac Baker, the co-founder and president of Resonant Energy, to discuss how the business plan relies on communities to survive the “solarcoaster” that is the renewable energy market.
How did Resonant Energy begin?
I met my partner Ben Underwood in late 2014. We had both just graduated with undergraduate degrees up in Vermont and had been thinking about doing work right at the intersection of climate change and social change. We were initially interested in biogas systems, turning food waste and animal waste into clean energy, which was this big growing technology of interest in Vermont at the time because there are a lot of farms out there.
But in about six months we learned that [biogas] technology was a little bit before its time, so we went to this place called the Co-op Power, which was working on developing shared solar arrays that could be accessible to everyone regardless of their income, credit score, race, or creed. We did that for about a year together and founded “the Future of Solar” division at Co-op Power, and through that process we got connected with a lot of resources. That was our real incubation.
During SOCAP17 [an industry conference for social enterprises and impact investors], Steph Spiers of Solstice Initiative—a nonprofit that works on community solar projects—said that people who need solar the most are least likely to use it. Can you speak to that?
Limited-resource communities—folks that have the lowest incomes—are paying the highest percentage of their monthly salary towards electricity. So, for your average high-income household, they're never going to think about their electric bill. They'll put it on autopay and it’s just going to get paid and they aren't going to worry too much about it. For low-income households, energy can be 10-15 percent of the monthly costs that they have, which can be second to rent as their largest monthly expense. In thinking about who needs clean energy based on the savings that can come from implementing it, it's most meaningful for limited-resource communities. But because there are educational barriers and financing barriers, they are also the least able to adopt clean energy right now.
Would you say that's purely a cost thing?
Under current market conditions for the average home, the average solar contracts will cost $20,000 to $30,000 dollars to install. It can be financed, but in order to take out a loan for that you need around a 680 credit score or higher, and you have to want to take out a pretty burdensome loan. So, [many] folks who are limited-income are not able to access rooftop solar because of that underwriting criteria.
You say on your site that solar energy can "turn a current source of injustice into a new power base for communities that need it the most." Can you talk to me about that injustice?
The communities that have had coal plants sited in their communities, that are located near fossil fuel infrastructure and all kinds of dirty energy sources, these are the communities that have borne the brunt of our previous energy systems. And [now], just as we're creating the solutions to create a cleaner more vibrant world that's going to power itself in the future, these are the communities that are being left in the dark.
Resonant Energy’s Solar Access Program is called the “first inclusive financing model” for installing a solar rooftop. How does the program work?
Unlike many rooftop solar products and solutions, ours isn't designed for a single family home—it’s focused on limited resource neighborhoods. That means it can work for the single family-home, but it also works for the retiree on a fixed income, the church down the block, and the small local business. We wanted to create a solar financing solution that will work for all of these equally.
In Boston, where we've been for the last year, we sign with project hosts who agree to host the panels on their roofs for 20 years and in exchange they get 15 percent of the [electricity] value produced by the array right to their electric bill, and they pay nothing at any time [for hosting the panels]. So they're basically making their roof available and they get the equivalent of a few hundred dollars a year. So that's our goal: to cut people’s electric bill and have them pay nothing at any time. Then, we make that same offer available on a smaller scale for nonprofits and small businesses that can host larger arrays of solar panels.
Then how do you make money? What’s the business model?
The typical way solar financing works is that you have strict underwriting criteria—like a 680 credit score. A company puts solar on [the customer’s] roof and then charges them at a discount for the next 20 years. So, if you give them 100 dollars of value in a given month, you're going to charge them 85 dollars a month for the next 20 years to help recover the expenses. The way we change that is that we give away 15% of the output to each household and the rest of the 85% of that output we aggregate and we sell the extra power to a longterm, credit-worthy institution like a local affordable housing development or a municipality or a big business, so that we have a longterm revenue stream that can help pay off the assistance we give to limited income communities.
And solar is cheaper than regular electricity.
That's right. Everybody saves in our model. A big electric user who buys the extra power off the roof saves money on their electric bill and the home or building owner that hosts the array is saving 20 to 25 percent off their electric bills.
How’d your partnerships with Massachusetts faith communities start?
One of our founding members had a house that was great for solar and he went to church at this big old beautiful building called the Second Church in Dorchester that also had this amazing roof for solar. For various reason, neither his home nor the church was able to access financing to put up solar through the traditional models. As we were developing our program, we worked closely with our founding member to look at the problems we had to solve and figure out solutions—like how we can take his church, which was too small to finance on its own, and make it go solar. During our second meeting, the pastor joined us and said ‘Well if the church is too small, I have a list of 500 churches here in Boston—many of which I work with and I know the pastors—what if we just do this big campaign and get all of the churches, regardless of their faith, and do it all together to bring the cost down?’ So we worked in the community to run an interfaith campaign to allow the churches to go solar.
The pastors all worked together over a year to do it. And that's where the Solar Access Program began, through the process of working with these faith leaders and thinking about how we can do more when we bring a program together that leverages the entire community.
Is this something other energy companies—like Solar City—could replicate? Is there a reason why more companies aren't doing this?
There isn’t anything that we're doing that others couldn’t do, technically. We're using the same existing laws and incentives, but what we're doing is very hard to do. For most companies, the reason they aren't doing it is because if you're building solar projects it's much easier to target affluent, single-family, unoccupied homes in the suburbs and persuade the [owners] to pay to put solar on their roof. So right now, the market will trend towards those communities first and foremost—like selling their product to the highest bidder.
At this point we aren't getting rich off this project. But we have proven a model that can scale, and there's a good business case for it—like billions of dollars of solar [energy] that will need those rooftops in the next 20 to 30 years.
What are the biggest challenges in expanding these types of solar initiatives? Is it mostly cost and time?
Yeah, I mean for any industry driven by state-level policies that change every few months, that alone is what we call "the solarcoaster." There's a changing landscape of incentives and regulations and an ongoing battle with utilities about what the value of solar energy will even be. I'd say [those] are the two biggest challenges.
So, how long until everyone has a solar roof or at least some solar electricity?
That's a hard question. There are some communities in Massachusetts that have already massively adopted solar. So we have some small towns that are net producing more electricity that they're using. Then there are the early adopters in affluent communities who are proving that it's possible and who want to be on the forefront of this transition. But in terms of everyone else, rooftop solar—though it's becoming popular—is just hitting its tipping point of becoming the expectation in some communities. There are communities now that have had so many installations that, if you have a good roof for solar, it's kind of weird if you don't get one. That, to me, is the social change that's going to drive this forward more than anything else. But I think we've got a long way to go. We've got thousands and thousands of homes to do installations on and it's going to take 20 to 30 years to do. But the work is definitely accelerating.
What's next for Resonant Energy?
In terms of expanding in the next coming years, our goal is expanding in a way that empowers the communities and organizations that are already serving the communities we want to partner with. So, when we think about going to Washington D.C. or New York or wherever, instead of just writing a business plan, hiring folks, and sending them in, we first go in and spend a few months working with local nonprofit partners and local co-ops and other local folks that we want to see leading the charge towards clean energy, so that we can expand by working with folks on the ground in each new community that we serve.