Energy

Good Job: R.I. Nonprofit Helps Low-Income Residents Go Solar

The solar panels on the roof of Charles Lin's home on Cape Cod can be seen just above the roof. (Charles Lin)

PROVIDENCE — Lower-income families in southeastern New England looking to make the switch to renewable energy can now finance the installation of solar panels on their homes thanks to a nonprofit that arranges low-interest solar loans.

Massachusetts resident Charles Lin bought a home with his family on Cape Cod in October. Making the transition to solar energy and doing his part to create a more sustainable society was a high priority.

“Our house is on the Cape, which is a place of deep natural beauty, and we have a small child that we want to actually have the opportunity to grow up in a world that’s cleaner than the one we live in,” Lin said.

Lin was connected to a loan officer at Capital Good Fund, a Rhode Island-based nonprofit working to tackle poverty and environmental injustice, who helped the Lin family get approved for their loan and get their solar panels installed.

“It was shockingly simple,” Lin said. “Especially compared to all the work we had to go through to finance the house. It was just like a hundredth of that.”

Partnering with New England-based solar installers including Cotuit Solar and Got Sun Go Solar, Capital Good Fund created the DoubleGreen Solar Loan program to help low-income residents in Rhode Island and Massachusetts who may not qualify for a traditional loan to get solar panels installed on their homes. The loans are paid in monthly installments over 25 years with low-interest rates starting at a 3.1% annual percentage rate (APR).

Capital Good Fund has been offering heat loans since 2011, which gets eligible customers an interest-free loan for such things as high-efficiency gas boilers and insulation. But solar energy has not been included in that opportunity.

Andy Posner, Capital Good Fund founder and CEO, said at a time of rising energy and gas prices, the DoubleGreen Solar Loan program is helpful for families since the monthly loan payment is lower than their current utility bills.

“Over time, the loan payment stays the same, but energy bills go up and up and up,” Posner said. “Unfortunately, communities of color, low-income families, and others have almost been entirely left out of the residential solar boom. Only 5 percent of families have solar anyway.”

There are no minimum or maximum requirements for the program. The average loan size is $35,000 and can go up to $60,000. The organization takes the roof size, area shading, and the customer’s current utility bill — specifically their kilowatt-hour usage — into consideration, making it easy to size individual systems.

Lin said his monthly power bills living on the Cape were north of $300. Now his loan payments are right around $300. The family also receives funds from the state of Massachusetts through the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program, or SMART, which gives them credits simply for installing solar and making that switch to renewable energy.

“Everyone I’ve talked to I’ve tried to convince to go solar on the Cape,” Lin said. “If you have a good sun-facing roof, at this point there’s zero reasons not to do it. It’s going to extend the life of your roof. It’s going to save you money almost immediately. With high energy prices and a dirty grid, if you can just extract really pure and clean energy from the sun on your roof, why wouldn’t you do that?”

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