Head of EPA, Vermont Officials Announce National Solar for All Program in Waterbury – VTDigger

a group of people standing in front of a podium.
Michael Regan, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, center, speaks about a new $7 billion Solar for All grant competition to fund residential solar programs at a press conference at SunCommon in Waterbury on Wednesday, June 28. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

WATERBURY A cast of prominent politicians gathered at SunCommon headquarters Wednesday afternoon to announce the start of a program designed to reduce barriers for low- and middle-income families to install residential solar energy systems.

Michael Regan, administrator of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, sat with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., U.S. Senator Peter Welch, D-Vt., and U.S. Representative Joined Becca Balint, D-Vt., to launch the new program, called Solar for All.

EPA has $7 billion in hand for the program, from the Inflation Reduction Act, to be distributed to as many as 60 entities, including states, territories, tribal governments, municipalities and nonprofits.

Sanders said he hopes that, in 10 years, the program will provide rooftop solar finance to people in 10 million homes who otherwise couldn’t afford it. In Vermont, it currently costs about $18,000 to install solar panels without rebates or other financing, he said.

While the rebates help and some utilities and nonprofits provide additional support, we want to do better, she said.

What we’re saying today, to every working family, middle-income family, low-income family: The purpose of this program is to help you with that upfront cost, whatever it is, Sanders said.

Participation in the program guarantees a minimum of 20 percent total savings on electricity bills for households, according to a press release released by Sanders and the EPA.

According to a study conducted by the University of Vermont, Black, Indigenous, or colored Vermonters were seven times less likely to own solar panels, and renters were three times less likely than homeowners to report having solar panels.

a black man in a business suit talking to the camera.
Michael Regan, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said he came to Vermont to announce the program because the state has demonstrated exemplary leadership in implementing solar technology. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

To decide who gets the funding, the agency plans to hold a grant contest, centered on applications that pledge to expand existing solar programs or create new ones for low-income families across the country.

This is not a paternalistic approach, Regan said. What we actually did was say that nonprofits, communities, and local elected officials know their community better than the federal government ever could, so we’re creating a competition and we’re going to get these entities to step up and take control of significant resources to make sure that all these communities are involved.

Regan said he came to Vermont to announce the program because the state has demonstrated exemplary leadership in implementing solar technology.

He pointed to the SunCommons model, which has allowed many Vermonters to install solar panels at no upfront cost. The company works with credit unions to allow homeowners to pay for the panels over time, by replacing the cost of electric bills with the cost of the loan.

While some details about Solar for All aren’t out yet, Regan said her agency plans to roll out the money in about a year. Grants are expected to provide funding and technical assistance, such as workforce development.

When asked whether the program will benefit renters, Sanders said the EPA is still finalizing the details. About 30% of households in Vermont rent.

That’s one of the complexities EPA is grappling with, he said. The answer is yes. It won’t be easy, but they are working on it.

peter welch speaks to a group of people at a podium.
United States Representative Becca Balint, D-Vt., center, and United States Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, listen as United States Senator Peter Welch, D-Vt., speaks about a new $7 billion Solar for All grant competition to fund residential solar programs at a news conference at SunCommon in Waterbury on Wednesday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Waterbury resident Ian Shea spoke alongside Regan and the congressional delegation, detailing his experience with solar energy. A middle school science teacher said he often promotes the benefits of having solar panels to his students. When asked if he had a solar system himself, he knew it was time to invest.

I can confidently say that I’m generating a lot more energy than I’m actually using, which is again great, Shea said. The best part of all of this is that I not only own a house here, but I own my own energy, and that’s a fantastic idea.

Sanders, who pushed to include funding for Solar for All in the Inflation Reduction Act, called climate change an existential threat during his remarks Wednesday. He pointed to recent events to support his case: Poor air quality in Vermont due to wildfires in nearby Quebec and a horrific heat wave in Texas.

If we don’t act together and transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy and energy efficiency, it’s really quite questionable, the quality of life our children and grandchildren will have not only in this country, but all around the world, Sanders said.

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