Excitement Grows as Partners Introduce Solar Program for Disadvantaged Homeowners in Allegheny County
Solar United Neighbors (SUN) marked a significant milestone in Allegheny County by celebrating the commencement of the first of many free solar panel installations for low- to moderate-income homeowners. The initiative aims to ensure that the shift to renewable energy is accessible to all, promoting equity in the green energy transition.
Low-income households tend to allocate a larger portion of their income towards energy expenses compared to wealthier households. This disparity has made it challenging for fixed-income homeowners like Terry Fuller to adopt solar power, despite the declining costs of panel installations.
Fuller, who purchased her Glen Hazel home in 2006, shared that she typically pays around $125 per month to Duquesne Light for electricity. As rates rise and inflation takes its toll, Fuller expressed that even a $5 reduction in her bill would provide significant relief.
“I’ve been interested in solar since 2008, but every time I explored it, it seemed out of reach,” Fuller said.
However, everything changed earlier this month when EIS Solar, based in Carnegie, installed a 6.12-kilowatt solar panel array on Fuller’s home. This installation is expected to cover almost her entire electricity bill. Fuller’s property is the first of seven homes in the Glen Hazel and Hazelwood neighborhoods to receive free solar panel installations of up to 5 kilowatts, with Fuller personally covering the difference. Additionally, a 15-year maintenance plan is included.
A ceremonial ribbon-cutting event marked this momentous occasion, gathering community partners responsible for making the program possible, including the Hazelwood Initiative, 350 Pittsburgh, and the City of Bridges Community Land Trust.
Henry McKay, SUN’s regional program director, announced that installations at two more homes are expected to be completed in the coming days. The City of Bridges will begin construction on the remaining four homes in Hazelwood scheduled to receive solar panels as part of the pilot program later this spring.
In 2020, Hazelwood became home to a 133,000-square-foot solar array, the largest single-sloped array in the country. This structure is situated within the 178-acre development at Hazelwood Green, envisioned as a future global hub for the economy. As new businesses thrive in the area, Tiffany Taulton, the Hazelwood Initiative’s director of outreach and sustainability, emphasized the importance of ensuring long-term homeowners in the community also benefit from these investments.
“At the Hazelwood Initiative, we are determined to ensure that those who have been part of this community for the longest time reap the rewards of its new development and not only stay here but thrive and have a better life,” Taulton stated.
The seven recipients of low- to moderate-income solar installations are part of SUN’s fourth solar co-op, launched in February 2022. This co-op, the largest of its kind in the Commonwealth, aims to simplify and reduce the cost of transitioning to solar energy for residents. Membership is free and grants participants access to solar education resources and technical assistance from SUN.
Collaborating as a co-op allows residents to secure competitive installation rates with the support of SUN as a neutral party. McKay highlighted the recruitment efforts across the county, guiding co-op members in selecting their preferred solar installer.
Next week, SUN will initiate another solar and electric vehicle charger co-op, providing an opportunity for an additional seven to ten homeowners who earn 80% or less of the area median income to participate in the free installation program.
Councilwoman Barb Warwick, representing Glen Hazel and Hazelwood, expressed hope that programs like these will generate interest among lawmakers as they distribute federal funding allocated by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.