The Golden State strikes again, rolling in the New Year with yet another gain for renewable energy. After reporting earlier last year that its wholesale electricity prices were driven down to zero and sometimes into the negative due to an oversupply of solar energy, California announced last December the launch of a multibillion dollar program, dubbed SOMAH, to extend solar energy to low-income households across the state.
The Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program is a governmental scheme that aims to provide low-income houses in California with rooftop solar installations in an attempt to ensure that renewable energy is not only provided to the wealthy. The state’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program will provide households with $100 million annually in incentives for solar installations when the program begins in September.
California has been developing the program for the past two years – since 2015 – via state legislature. The bill through which SOMAH was created claims its main purpose is to ensure that sustainable infrastructure is extended beyond the state’s wealthy households, reduce energy bills for low-income residents, and help California reach its climate goals.
To receive the incentives, individuals must live in a building with five or more income-restricted units, where 80 percent of tenants earn 60 percent of the area’s median income or live in a “disadvantaged area.” The state has split the program’s energy output into two: that which serves the building’s tenants and that which serves the building’s common areas. The former will cost $3.20 per watt and the latter $1.10 per watt.
The entire idea behind the SOMAH program and the state’s effort is to ensure equal access to renewable energy. California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) program manager, Sara Kamins, tells Nextcity that installing solar energy without incentives is generally more cost-efficient, but it isn’t the same for low-income households. “If the state wants to ensure all Californians have access to solar, this will help achieve that goal.”
The University of California Berkeley’s Ethan Elkind told Nextcity he doesn’t think SOMAH is going to transform the energy system in the state of California; however, he does believe the state can learn from the program for similar projects in the future.
Although the state had a similar program in 2008 called the Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program, the state dedicated far less money to the program in comparison to SOMAH. The most significant difference between the two programs is that the latest program focuses on ensuring that solar energy is accessible to every household, regardless of income percentile.
SOMAH’s next deadlines are at the end of April, which is when an administration for the program is going to be selected, which will be followed by the production of a program handbook at the end of August. The two moves will be just in time for the program’s beginning in September of this year.