December 1, 2017

Partnership opens solar market to low-income Vermonters

SunCommon is installing a 166.5 kilowatt solar array on the roof of Green Mountain Power's Middlebury facility. Through a partnership, the two companies are helping low-income Vermonters invest in solar energy. COURTESY PHOTO

Green Mountain Power and SunCommon are teaming up for what’s believed to be a first-of-its-kind community solar program for low-income customers.

Low-income GMP customers in Middlebury will be able to sign on to a special program to take advantage of solar energy without any investment.

SunCommon is in the process of installing a 166.5 kilowatt solar array on the roof of GMP’s Middlebury service center.

Households can sign up for membership in the community solar project if their household income falls within 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or $36,900 for a family of four. Members receive 7 percent off the price of power generated by the array or the equivalent of receiving $100 in solar credits for $93.

GMP spokeswoman Kristin Carlson said SunCommon was a logical choice to partner on the project.

“SunCommon is one of our partners and we’re always talking with them about what can we do that’s innovative for customers,” Carlson said.

She said both companies are incorporated as Vermont B-Corp, meaning companies that adhere to a set of socially responsible business practices.

Carlson said the utility’s Middlebury service building is just one of a number of GMP service centers around the state that could be used for rooftop community solar

Clary Franko of SunCommon said the idea was to make renewable energy available to all Vermonters without the upfront investment.

She said joining the community solar array requires no downpayment or a minimum credit score.

“So those are two barriers removed and we’re guaranteeing savings,” said Franko, SunCommon’s marketing program manager.

Members receive a share of the solar array’s output based on a customer’s energy needs.

When a community solar array member receives their monthly GMP bill, the bill will include a solar credit that offsets the kilowatt-hour usage. Credits can be banked for up to 12 months.

Memberships are available in $5 credit increments starting at $20 a month. Franko said SunCommon will analyze a customer’s electric usage history to determine the best level of membership.

Low-income Vermonters are often stretched thin to make ends meet, especially during the winter, so a few dollars saved on their electric bill can help, said Ludy Biddle, executive director of Neighborworks of Western Vermont.

“We encourage and support efforts to provide participation for low and moderate households to work in community solar projects,” Biddle said.

Franko said the hope is to do more community solar projects, and not just with GMP.

Franko said since it is more difficult to secure permitting for solar projects on open land, the company is looking at community rooftop installations on large commercial buildings or structures like parking decks or car ports that also serve as solar canopies.

“So roofs are definitely the ideal,” she said.

She said construction of the Middlebury project is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.


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