Austin Energy’s New Low-Income Solar Deal

Utility wants to enact a heavily reduced rate for those enrolled in its customer assistance program

Springdale-Airport Neighborhood Association President Peter Rivera at La Loma Community Solar Farm (Photo by John Anderson)

Following last week's feature story on Austin Energy's solar rebate program, utility staff announced plans to meet with City Coun­cil members this week to propose a special rate for low-income households who subscribe to AE's new community solar project.

The upcoming La Loma Community Solar Farm in the Springdale neighborhood will go online by the end of this year, providing subscribers from around town with clean renewable energy. There are already over 150 customers on the waiting list expecting to pay a premium price of $0.0427 per kilowatt hour, adding between $10-19 to their average electric bill. Now, AE Vice President Deborah Kimberly is saying that her staff will be recommending that half of La Loma's 2.5 MW capacity be reserved for income-verified customers enrolled in the city's customer assistance program. Eligibility for the program requires participation in select governmental assistance programs, such as Medic­aid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). To subscribe to the special rate of $0.0277 per kWh, CAP customers must sign up before March 31, 2018, and remain registered in the discounts program. Kimberly estimates that up to 200 customers could be served through this new arrangement.

Half of La Loma’s 2.5 megawatt capacity could be reserved for income-verified customers.

An Oct. 5 resolution at City Council directed AE to spend up to $500,000 to connect underserved markets with renewable energy sources. The utility's solar rebate program has been highly successful at putting solar panels on the roofs of homeowners, but has been unable to reach most Austin renters. In a Nov. 13 presentation to the Electric Util­ity Commission, Solar Energy Services manager Danielle Murray said the La Loma project was intended to expand access to customers who hadn't had the opportunity to go solar, like those living in multifamily apartments or in shaded single-family homes. "Another community that obviously falls into both of those camps is low-income customers who have been less able to install solar in the past, and we really think community solar is an opportunity to engage them," she said.

In fact, the Springdale-Airport Neigh­bor­hood Association had advocated for a special low-income discount for residents in their area back when construction had just started. After negotiating with the community, AE had agreed to market to Springdale customers who could also benefit from the city's Weath­er­iz­ation Program. SNA President Peter Rivera said last week that he had been OK with what had been offered before, but was excited about the unexpected proposal. "It will give a lot of people a break with the long-term savings," he said. "I'm very happy."

Council must make a tariff change in order to put this solar discount into place, because the discount will be added outside of the regular rate-setting and budget cycle. A hearing date has been proposed for Dec. 14.

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Austin Energy, Deborah Kimberly, Danielle Murray, La Loma Community Solar Farm

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