Posts Tagged ‘foundation communities’

Austin City Council adopted a resolution yesterday to direct $500,000 of Austin Energy’s fiscal year 2018 budget to prove solar to “multi-family affordable housing, low-income residents, renters, and non-profits.”  Austin Energy staff agree that this goal is achievable and have committed to develop programs to serve these customers.  Per the resolution, staff will report back to Council in February on progress made toward achieving this goal.

Expanding access to solar for low-income residents is the next generation of distributed solar policy.   As solar prices have dropped significantly and solar financing has become widely available, solar adoption among middle-income residents has increased.  But it is still difficult for low-income residents and renters to take advantage of these opportunities in Austin.

There are several barriers to adopting solar with these groups of customers.  Renters lack control over the decision and landlords often see no reason to invest in solar to reduce bills for tenants.  Low-income residents are more likely to lack access to credit, or sufficient savings to buy solar.  And multi-family properties require different billing arrangements than single family homes.

Affordable housing developed by Foundation Communities has been the one big exception to this deficit of solar for low-income residents in Austin.  The non-profit boasts 720 kilowatts of solar across many of its Austin properties.  Most of these installations are used to supply energy for common areas, or are at properties where Foundation Communities pays all bills for its tenants.

Foundation Communities Homestead Oaks Apartments in south Austin is the one example where the organization uses solar to reduce the bills of each of its 140 tenants.  Unfortunately, Austin Energy’s billing policy required that each unit have its own, independent solar array.  Instead of one big solar installation on the roof, there are 140 installations, each with its own production meter.  This drove up the cost by 15-20%, resulting in a large area of wall being filled with meters, and made the job more complicated.  It’s not an attractive model.

What is the solution?  Shared solar – similar to virtual net metering that exists in many other states.  Austin Energy needs to update its billing system to allow Value of Solar production credits (Austin Energy’s alternative to net metering) from a single solar array to be divided among multiple customer accounts.  Austin Energy has committed to making this change by September 2018.

The Shared Solar billing solution is just the start.  Much more will be needed to make solar accessible to low-income residents and renters.  Austin Energy could offer a higher residential solar rebate for installations on affordable housing properties where solar is used to benefit the individual residences (such as at the Homestead property).  The utility already offers a somewhat higher solar incentive for nonprofits with commercial customer accounts, but these is currently no such offer for residential accounts for multifamily housing.

Another option would be to implement a program similar to CPS Energy’s Solar Host program.  This program allows residents to benefit from rooftop solar without making any investment.  The utility contracts with a solar developer who installs solar on customer rooftops.  The utility pays the solar developer a set rate per kilowatt-hour of energy produced, and each participating customer receives a bill credit for each kilowatt-hour produced on their roof.  Essentially, the customer is renting their roof space.  The bill credits aren’t as high as if the customer owned the solar installation, but it requires no investment on their part, making solar accessible to low-income customers.

Implementing an on-bill repayment program could expand access to solar for renters.  This would tie a solar loan to a particular customer meter, as opposed to the customer themselves.   When one tenant moves out and another moves in, both the repayment of the loan and the bill credits from solar production transfer to the new tenant.  Ideally, such a program would ensure that average annual bill credits exceed annual loan repayment, meaning that a customer’s energy bill would not increase.

Buying down the community solar rate for low-income customers would also help renters.  Austin Energy is considering donating solar installations to affordable housing properties.  That’s how the Guadalupe-Saldana Net Zero Subdivision was able to incorporate solar.  Public Citizen fully supports this, but recognizes that this solution will always be limited by available funding.

The Austin City Council resolution was sponsored by Council Member Greg Casar and co-sponsored by Council Members Leslie Pool, Delia Garza, and Pio Renteria.  They were joined in support by Council Members Ann Kitchen, Alison Alter and Ora Houston, Mayor Pro Tem Tovo, and Mayor Steve Adler.  Public Citizen applauds City Council and Austin Energy for embracing this next step in local solar development in Austin and looks forward to engaging with staff and other stakeholders to make this effort a success.

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Yesterday’s press conference announcing our broad-based Clean Energy for Austin coalition was a great success! Check out the video below. Special thanks to the other speakers, Sunshine Mathon of Foundation Communities, Pastor Lou Snead of the Interfaith Environmental Network, and Steve Taylor of Applied Materials! If you haven’t already, please sign today on as a member of the Clean Energy for Austin coalition.

[vimeo 9535528]


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Photo Courtesy of Donna Hoffman at the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. Thanks Donna!

Dozens of businesses and nonprofit organizations as well as more than 200 citizens have formed Clean Energy for Austin, a coalition whose purpose is to push Austin City Council to adopt a clean energy plan. Specifically, the coalition supports the passage of Austin Energy’s Resource and Climate Protection Plan and recommendations of a city task force created to examine the plan. Coalition members support the plan because of its emphasis on renewable energy and efficiency, green jobs creation and careful consideration of Austin’s low-income residents.

To date, more than 70 businesses, 18 non-profit organizations and more than 200 individuals have signed on in support of the energy plan through www.cleanenergyforaustin.org.

The energy plan is a road map for how Austin Energy, the city-owned electric utility, will meet the city’s energy needs over the next 10 years. It includes a substantial investment in energy efficiency and a variety of renewable energy resources like wind and solar, as well as new more efficient natural gas plants. In addition to diversifying its generation portfolio, Austin Energy wants to create a self-sustaining market for renewable technologies like solar rooftops and parking lots by 2020.

“A good business practice is to keep your options open when selecting suppliers,” said Steve Taylor of Applied Materials, a semiconductor manufacturer employing more than a thousand Austinites. “This plan allows for a diversity of different energy options, so it protects businesses – and residents – from long-term price spikes for any single power source because other energy supply options will be available and abundant. This plan also enhances Austin’s efforts to create green businesses and green jobs for years to come.”

The plan is the culmination of a nearly two-year public process of gathering input from multiple stakeholder groups, including businesses, environmental organizations, and groups serving low-income communities. Four representatives from the mayor’s Generation and Resource Planning Task Force, which analyzed more than a dozen scenarios of where Austin could get its power by 2020, are members of the coalition: Phillip Schmandt, chairman of Electric Utility Commission, Cary Ferchill, chair of Solar Austin, as well as non-profit members Public Citizen and Sierra Club.

“The great thing about the plan is its flexibility,” said Matthew Johnson, clean energy advocate with Public Citizen. “If costs for any resource type rise or fall dramatically over the next 10 years, Austin Energy would have the ability to change the plan, and do so with the help of community stakeholders. That’s the beauty of a diverse portfolio of resources. If Austin were locked into building a new coal or nuclear plant, our fate would be sealed.”

Energy efficiency, generally recognized as the cheapest energy resource, would be the main component of the plan. Austin Energy would take a more proactive and coordinated approach to reach low-income households with free weatherization to help lower their electric bills.

“Low-income communities need the most help with paying utility bills,” said Sunshine Mathon, design and development director of Foundation Communities, an Austin-based nonprofit affordable housing organization. “Austin has a long track record of having the lowest bills in Texas because of its commitment to conservation programs that help people lower their bills. My hope is that with the passage of this plan, those programs will not only expand but coordinate with other programs like bill assistance, neighborhood housing and community development.”

Coalition representatives also said that the plan reduces financial risk associated with overreliance on fossil fuels. The plan would enable Austin Energy to ramp down the Fayette coal plant more often, protecting the utility from pending carbon regulation.

“Whether or not you support greenhouse gas regulation, reducing the amount of carbon emissions that Austin is responsible for makes economic sense,” Johnson said. “That’s in addition to the improvements in air quality Austin and the surrounding region would experience. It’s a win-win.”

Austin’s City Council could vote on the plan in March, according to Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. He has scheduled a Feb. 22 town hall meeting on Austin Energy’s Resource and Climate Protection Plan. Coalition members urge the public to visit www.cleanenergyforaustin.org and sign on as well as attend the town hall meeting to show their support.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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