Solar energy is one of those things in the sustainability world that has a certain umph to it. It’s long-lasting, attractive, and a great gesture that individuals can do to lessen their carbon footprint. But it’s also fairly expensive.
An average photovoltaic (PV) system can cost a homeowner tens of thousands of dollars. Even with upcoming tax credits and rebates available from the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, it still takes quite a chunk of change to purchase panels for your home, so homeowners without the means to make this purchase are getting left behind.
The City of Asheville and Buncombe County have an ambitious goal: Achieve 100% renewable energy for the entire community by 2042. That means everyone. So how do we bring solar to our community in an equitable way? Enter: The Neighbor to Neighbor Solar program.
The Neighbor to Neighbor Solar program began in 2021 after recognizing the need in the community for affordable solar. This program aims to directly address the high energy costs that disproportionately burden low-income families, while also reducing carbon pollution and advancing our region’s energy goals. Neighbor to Neighbor is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act and the City of Asheville and Buncombe County Sustainability Offices. The project aims to install 20 systems by the end of 2024, contracted through Sugar Hollow Solar, a local Asheville company.
Neighbor to Neighbor recipient Lucinda Bickers had wanted solar for her home for many years, but simply could not afford it. While researching if the Inflation Reduction Act would help make solar a possibility for her household, she learned about the Neighbor to Neighbor program and made the easy decision to say yes.
“Just the opportunity to have it installed for free was mind boggling,” she said. “I was amazed that this was a possibility and y’all were the first ones to offer it. My last bill I just paid was $34! I’ve never in my life paid $34 for an electric bill. The panels look awesome and I haven’t had any trouble at all. The biggest trouble I have is trying to explain to my roommate what kilowatt hours are.”
To qualify for Neighbor to Neighbor, families’ income must be less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Specific focus will also be given to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) households. Applicants are even given free weatherization audits and upgrades through the Energy Savers Network program prior to installation, to ensure homes are as energy efficient as possible from the very beginning. This allows the PV system to work at its full potential, maximizing energy savings.
Clary Franko, Chief Operating Officer at Sugar Hollow Solar, highlights the importance of serving our community with this program: “It’s essential that we include all people in the clean energy revolution happening right now. Solar is one of the brilliant technologies that’s necessary to create a healthier future, but we need more people to be accessing and benefiting from both the energy and the economy of it.”
For Buncombe County households that would like to apply for Neighbor to Neighbor Solar, visit our website at bluehorizonsproject.com/n2n to review the qualifications. If you have any questions, please reach out to Summer Winkler, email@example.com or 828-222-0314.
Those interested in donating to support the Blue Horizons Project’s Neighbor to Neighbor Solar efforts can visit greenbuilt.org/donate, mail a check to Green Built Alliance at PO Box 2594, Asheville, NC 28802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Summer Winkler serves as the Clean Energy Program Coordinator with Green Built Alliance. Prior to joining staff last year, she worked as an intern with Green Built Alliance while receiving a Graduate Certificate of Sustainability from Virginia Tech. Connect with Summer at Summer@greenbuilt.org.