Low-income households in Colorado are getting a new question during visits from energy assistance agencies: Have you considered solar panels?

It’s an innovative approach to solving two challenges at once: reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the effects of climate change appear across the state, and lowering low-income families’ electricity bills.

The results can make a big difference for residents like Joe Anderson, whose power bills have been cut by two-thirds since 13 solar panels were installed free-of-charge on his ranch-style house under one Colorado program. “I felt like I kind of got the luck of the draw,” he said.

 

Colorado is emerging as a national model for how to expand renewable energy to low-income homes.

The state has been pursuing low-income solar programs since 2015, and it’s on track to have 20 megawatts installed by the end of 2019 as those programs ramp up. The total is the combination of several programs that, working with utilities and charitable organizations, provide rooftop installations and community solar arrays to help customers save money.

One key to Colorado’s success is that much of the rooftop solar work is being run by county and regional weatherization offices that already provide insulation and other energy efficiency services.

Solar Was ‘The Logical Next Step’

To see Colorado’s low-income solar programs in action, one of the best examples is in Arapahoe County, where Anderson lives, just outside Denver. It’s the third most populous county in the state and often a trend-setter in providing services.

Solar was “the logical next step in increasing potential energy-cost savings for low-income consumers” and a natural addition to the Arapahoe County Weatherization Division‘s work, said Steve Elliott, the division’s manager.

County employees identify which households would benefit the most from solar while doing a larger assessment of energy efficiency and other needs.

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