A new statewide pilot program in California is giving free solar panels to households in disadvantaged areas, starting with communities in Fresno. Called the Low-Income Weatherization Program (LIWP), it is eventually intended to serve about 1800 households throughout the state.
Senate Bill 535, passed in 2012, directed state and local agencies to try to improve California’s most vulnerable communities through the investment of part of the proceeds from quarterly auctions of the state’s cap-and-trade program. A total of $75 million has so far been set aside for LIWP.
The LIWP solar panel program is administered by the California Department of Community Services and Development (CSD) and has three purposes:
- to produce greater environmental sustainability in heavily polluted communities in order to combat climate change;
- to provide cheaper energy bills for low-income residents of such communities;
- to provide local job training in solar panel installation.
A community’s eligibility for the program is determined by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) through an analysis tool known as CalEnviroScreen 2.0, which, according to its website, determines “California communities that are disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution.” Fresno was chosen to inaugurate the program because of the high number, more than a dozen, of disadvantaged and polluted neighborhoods in the city, including the downtown, south and west areas.
To implement the program, CSD partnered with the Fresno Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), which in turn partnered with the corporation Sunrun to provide the solar systems. Brian Angus, the CEO of Fresno EOC, said: “We are helping to improve the lives of these low-income families, providing job training in solar installations and contributing to our state’s environmental goals.”
The program profiles two early recipients of the program, Fresno residents Salvador and Ricarda Mendoza. Ricarda, 61, works a low-wage job, and Salvador, 66, who is unemployed, is ill and requires very expensive medication. They applied for the program because it is projected to reduce the couple’s energy bills by 75 percent. Ricarda was quoted as saying: “I am glad, because now we will have more money for my husband’s medical expenses.”
A number of solar installation companies in Fresno are eligible for the program.
In addition to Fresno County, Sacramento, Merced, Madera, Tulare and Los Angeles counties will be served by the program.