Community Solar: Community Outreach

In April of 2019, the Office of Energy Resources (OER) team met with the Rhode Island Basic Needs Network (BNN), in Charleston, RI, a coalition of area social services providers, including non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity and Goodwill and churches that serve low-income clients in the Washington County Area. The expansive geographic and rural nature of Washington County necessitates a coordinated effort to create an organized network that can maximize resources and avoid redundancies. The primary topic of this meeting was to discuss community solar participation in low-income communities in southern Rhode Island.

The meeting took place at the WARM center, a comprehensive social services agency that provides essential services and programming for those in their service area. The coalition members brought valuable knowledge specific to utility issues faced by their communities. The OER team presented the upcoming community solar programs to the BNN and sought input from participants. Their critically important feedback included a concern for the possible customer impacts of community solar contracts on LIHEAP and A60 utility customer benefits.

This led OER to discuss the issue in detail with the RI Department of Human Services (DHS). They confirmed that there would be no conflict with LIHEAP benefits and community solar participation. This is great news for income eligible customers who receive LIHEAP because participation in community solar will not impact receiving these benefits.

Additionally, conversations with BNN also identified a possible conflict between A60 customer participation and community solar, potentially resulting in additional cost for these customers. National Grid immediately undertook an effort to address this issue. As of April 2020, a potential solution is under development by National Grid.

In response to identifying this problem, OER has created a participant-limited pilot program to work closely with A60 customers that are enrolled in community solar programs. This pilot program will walk select customers through the community solar programs and identify and troubleshoot barriers to participation encountered by A60 eligible customers. The OER team will have an evaluation report with information regarding barriers and solutions available in the summer of 2020.

For more information about the Rhode Island LIHEAP programs please visit: http://www.dhs.ri.gov/Programs/HEAPProgramInfo.php