Solar Nonprofit Wants to Bring Solar Energy to Low-Income Families in Allegheny County
by Amanda Waltz
March 24, 2022
Many homeowners have felt the push to go solar for a variety of reasons, including the potential to lower their carbon footprint and save money on utilities. But like any home improvement project, the transition isn’t cheap, which can deter many from taking the next step. Now one group is looking at ways to connect low-income families with solar power.
Solar United Neighbors, or SUN, a nationwide nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., recently announced the launch of the Allegheny County Solar and EV Charger Co-op, an effort to help Allegheny County residents and businesses access solar power. The co-op would be free to join and open to all homeowners and business owners in Allegheny County.
SUN also claims in a press release that, for the first time in Pennsylvania, the co-op would also include free solar installations for some low-to-moderate-income members.
The co-op would be made possible with private donations, all of which go towards “on-the-ground projects that are making solar more affordable and accessible for everyone,” according to the SUN website. The funding, SUN claims, would provide free five-kilowatt solar installations to homeowners with incomes below 80 percent of the Area Median Income until funding is exhausted.
At the time of the Allegheny County Solar and EV Charger Co-op launch, SUN was trying to raise $35,000 to “assist more families.”
“Solar is a powerful tool to cut your energy bills and protect our environment, but it’s not easily accessible to everyone,” said Henry McKay, the Pennsylvania program director for SUN. “That’s why we’ve launched this solar co-op: to help people get a better deal on an installation while providing unbiased guidance, and to some who need it most, free installations.”
Founded in 2007, SUN's mission is described as creating “a new energy system with rooftop solar at the cornerstone.” Besides its co-op program, the organization holds events and education programs to “help people become informed solar consumers, maximize the value of their solar investment, and advocate for fair solar policies.”
SUN also works to advocate for the equitable advent of solar energy. Currently, the SUN website urges visitors to sign a petition urging legislators to convert 30 million homes throughout the United States to solar, claiming the move would create jobs, cut air pollution, and benefit energy consumers.
According to the SUN’s estimates, the 109 Pennsylvania homes and businesses that now have solar panels because of solar co-ops represent one megawatt of solar power, $2.7 invested in the state economy, and more than 28.5 million pounds of carbon emissions avoided.
Among those working with the co-op is Hazelwood Initiative, Inc., along with the City of Bridges Community Land Trust, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, The Congress of Neighboring Communities, and 350 Pittsburgh. As part of the solar co-op, SUN committed to providing rooftop solar installations to four new units of City of Bridges Community Land Trust’s affordable housing in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood.
City of Bridges Community Land Trust executive director, Ed Nusser, said his organization was “thrilled to partner with Solar United Neighbors to bring renewable energy to our new permanently affordable homes in Hazelwood,” adding that the partnership helps to ensure that all the trust’s homes “are not just affordable to buy, but affordable to live in.”
“For too long, access to renewable energy has only been available to high-income families and we are incredibly excited to work with SUN to begin to tackle environmental justice and inequity through coupling permanently affordable homeownership and resident-owned solar power,” says Nusser.
The Hazelwood Initiative serves as the community development corporation for Pittsburgh's Hazelwood and Glen Hazel neighborhoods, working to create affordable housing and other opportunities to make the areas more inclusive. Tiffany Taulton, the director of outreach and sustainability at Hazelwood Initiative, says the group hopes the co-op will be “the first step in a larger effort to provide solar to working families across our region.”
Those interested in the Allegheny County Solar and EV Charger Co-op should know it is free to join, and that joining is not a commitment to make a purchase. It is open to all homeowners and business owners in Allegheny County. For more information on how to join the Allegheny County Solar Co-op, visit solarunitedneighbors.org/allegheny.
Donations to support SUN’s free solar installations can be made at solarunitedneighbors.org/hazelwood.