September 11, 2019

Duckworth, Booker Introduce Bill to Make Solar Energy More Affordable for Low Income Families


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), leaders of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus, today introduced legislation that would bolster our nation’s clean energy sector by helping low income Americans use solar energy. The Low Income Solar Energy Act expands the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), directs the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to create new financing programs, provides Section 8 homeowner’s interest free loans and much more. The solar industry already employs more than 5,000 Illinoisans and helps power approximately 19,000 homes across the state. Companion legislation was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Donald McEachin (D-VA-04), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07) and Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA-44), the leaders of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force, as well as Ben Ray Luján (D-NM-03).

“All Americans—regardless of whether they have good credit, own a home, or live in multi-family building—deserve to be able to access solar energy,” Duckworth said. “I’m proud to be introducing this legislation with Senator Booker and Congressman McEachin that would make it easier for low-income Americans to use solar energy and lower their utility bills, which will help our nation reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, combat climate change and decrease air pollution."

“Our country must transition to a clean energy economy and increase access to renewable energies for all Americans,” said McEachin. “That is why our legislation is so important: the Low-Income Solar Energy Act will make it easier for low-income individuals and affordable housing residents to use solar energy. I am pleased to introduce this legislation with my colleagues, Senator Duckworth, Senator Booker, and Congresswoman Barragán, co-chairs of our bicameral task force committed to environmental justice. It is appropriate that the first bill we have introduced together will increase energy affordability and help protect our planet for future generations.”

“The Low Income Solar Energy Act would help us make great strides in ensuring access to solar energy for low-income people across the country,” said Jayapal. “Too often, low-income people are on the front lines bearing the brunt of climate change but are excluded from some of the most innovative and important solutions. I am committed to addressing the crisis of climate change through solutions that put low-income communities and communities of color front and center.  This bill does just that, decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels and ensuring cleaner air for all communities while also saving money for hard-working families. ”  

“I’m proud to be a co-signer of the Low Income Solar Energy Act, it brings vital cost savings technology within reach of low income Americans while helping the environment,” said Diaz Barragán.

Specifically, the Low Income Solar Energy Act would:

  • Expand the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to include up to 25 percent solar in the program and makes large investments in the program.
  • Direct the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to create financing programs to help low-income families access solar, such as interest buy downs, grants and loan guarantees. Eligible expenses include roof repair, the cost of installation and community solar subscriptions.
  • Provide Section 8 homeowner’s interest free loans to install solar and make related infrastructure improvements while ensuring the savings from solar energy are reinvested in low income families.
  • Allow public housing authorities to enter into third party agreements with solar companies and ensures the money tax payers save is reinvested into these families.
  • Update the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rules on utility allowances to ensure that savings from solar energy does not lead to commensurate increases in rent.
  • Require DOE to create a solar workforce program that invests in underrepresented groups in the solar industry including women, Veterans, unemployed energy workers and formerly incarcerated individuals.

“Senator Duckworth's proposed low-income solar legislation would be a major step toward reducing the energy burden for low-income families and affordable housing residents throughout the country," said Stan Greschner, chief policy and business development officer with GRID Alternatives. "This legislation builds off of many successful state programs that expand access to clean energy through solar and ensures careers in the growing clean energy economy are accessible to all through workforce development.”

"Thanks to Senator Duckworth's leadership, the proposed Low Income Solar Energy Act would provide concrete tools to families who stand to benefit the most from a clean energy future," said Melanie Santiago-Mosier, Managing Director of Access & Equity at Vote Solar. "Investing in solar energy resources for low-income communities means cleaner air, healthier kids and local jobs, in addition to families saving money month after month."

Duckworth and Booker joined U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) in announcing the creation of the Senate’s first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus this past Earth Day to call Congress’ attention to the many environmental justice issues affecting our nation. McEachin is a member of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force, which was founded in May of 2017 by McEachin and U.S. Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA-44) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07).

In March of this year, Duckworth re-introduced the bipartisan Energy Jobs for our Heroes Act to help Veterans gain the training and credentials necessary to secure job opportunities in the clean energy sector.

This bill is supported by Grid Alternatives, Elevate Energy, Vote Solar, Faith in Place Action Fund, Clean Power Lake County, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club.