Don’t Own a House? Why Solar Power Isn’t Out of Reach for Gen Z – CNET

8 minutes, 14 seconds Read

You don’t own a home. Rent is high. And hey, fun fact: Your power bill is outpacing inflation. Welcome to your 20s!

There is a way to tamp down the cost of that electric bill though — and help lower your carbon footprint in the process. Make no mistake, this is a systemic problem Your emissions are nowhere near that of a fossil fuel company, but you can still be part of a larger movement and keep some cash in your pocket through switching to renewables. Environmentally conscious and pretty damn broke, Gen Zers can turn to the solar industry for an affordable cleantech solution to their utility problems.

Even if you don’t have a home to install rooftop panels on, you can still save up to 20% on your electricity bill with clean energy thanks to community solar programs.

Gen Z’s conundrum

I’m not going to lie to you, I have genuine concerns about my ability to become a homeowner someday — and I’m far from the only Gen Zer (someone born between 1997 and 2012) who feels this way.

My girlfriend and I both have five-figure salaries and six-figure debt, and the housing market is inhospitable toward young people with no generational wealth to speak of. Renting is a money pit; you have to pay the landlord, the internet bill, the gas and electric bill and more.

Ah yes, the dreaded electric bill. Electricity prices have risen by 3.6% on average across the United States over the past year, outpacing broader inflation numbers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

That’s just the national trend. Depending on where you live, your electricity rate may have increased by 25% between December 2022 and 2023. For Gen Z, this can be a serious financial burden.

Considering Solar Panels?

Our email course will walk you through how to go solar

“Gen Z is very passionate about the climate, but they don’t have a lot of money,” said Clare Quirin, a 23-year-old account coordinator for Tigercomm, a clean energy public relations company. “It’s not like we own homes and can handle the upfront costs of rooftop solar. So I think community solar is a great way to save on energy bills, but also be a part of the clean energy transition.”

What is community solar?

Community solar is an accessible and equitable way to draw your energy from the sun when a rooftop solar panel system isn’t available to you, which makes it perfect for Gen Z renters. There are 23 states that have legislation supporting the existence of community solar programs, and there are 20 states with more than 15 megawatts of community solar capacity currently installed.

Community solar projects are rapidly expanding throughout the US, but you still need to be quick to secure yourself a spot when it becomes available. 

When you subscribe to a community solar program, you’re pulling your electricity from a nearby solar farm. These are sizable arrays of solar that provide energy for a large number of people at the same time — you’re essentially paying for power from a carved-out section of a larger solar farm.

gettyimages-1817137940 gettyimages-1817137940

Most people think solar farms are always these seas of panels eating up acres of rural land — but that isn’t necessarily true.

Getty Images/Justin Paget

Community solar programs do have limited capacity, although many programs reserve a certain percentage for low- and middle-income households.

Speak to a representative of the utility or organization running your community solar program to see if you’re eligible.

The benefits of community solar

While the existence of community solar allows Gen Z to draw electricity from a clean energy source, there might also be financial benefits.

I know how hard it can be to hold it together financially. I’m trying to start my adult life, but bills, loans and monthly payments leave me feeling pinned down. A significant portion of Gen Z has “money dysmorphia,” but it’s still important to cut costs and follow proven financial strategies when possible. We can all take one small step at a time — the cash you can save on your electricity bill will add up.

If you’re eligible to subscribe to a community solar program, the Department of Energy estimates it can help you save up to 10 to 20% on your electricity bills each year. Considering the average American pays $1,667 on electricity annually, those savings figures mean an extra $167 to $334 in your pocket each year.

This is money in your pocket that you can use to pay down loans, make investments or put away in savings.

There’s another benefit to switching to solar energy: It’s a renewable energy source that won’t be putting out carbon emissions. To be clear, your individual contribution to planet-warming carbon emissions pales in comparison to the decisions made by, for example, giant corporations and governments. But putting your money toward solar power constitutes a vote in the marketplace, especially considering the burning of fossil fuels for energy generation is the biggest single driver of greenhouse gas emissions.

As a group, Gen Z will be on the planet longer than older generations. It only makes sense that we’re worried about climate change, and how it might seriously affect our quality of life somewhere down the road — we fear drought, global temperature changes and rising sea levels. According to the Pew Research Center, 76% of Gen Zers say that climate change is an important issue to them, while 37% of Gen Zers say that “addressing global climate change is a top concern for them personally.”

Switching to clean, renewable sources of energy is one of the most impactful choices you can make on an individual level, cutting back on your personal carbon footprint. In order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we’ll need to stop burning fossil fuels, on the grid and everywhere. If you’re concerned about climate change, community solar programs present a tangible way you can help do something about it.

How to apply to a community solar program

Assuming there’s community solar in your area, it’s fairly straightforward to apply.

You can reach out to local solar providers, which could be solar installers, solar nonprofit organizations and even utility companies themselves. Make sure that the community solar organization works with your local utility company.

That’s the hardest part of the process. All you have to do now is provide your utility account number to the solar provider, sign a community solar contract and figure out what billing will look like with your utility company.

Your power bill is going to be cheaper after subscribing to community solar, but there are a couple different ways your bill might look. Some providers consolidate billing with your utility, meaning your bill will ultimately look the same (but cheaper). Other providers will have a credit appear on your bill, making it read slightly differently.

Be aware: Some utility-run subscription models purporting to be community solar charge a subscription fee, with the credits on your bill only offsetting part of this fee. You could end up paying even more to the utility under this model. Do your research and make sure to go with your gut — don’t get saddled with a subscription to a program that’s “community solar” in name only.

Make sure you know how to read your bill after signing a community solar contract, and that everything is on the up-and-up, so you can more easily keep track of your finances.

Barriers to community solar access

Though community solar programs are expanding across the country, one of the largest barriers to community solar access is that it just isn’t currently available in certain states.

Some areas are much more solar-friendly than others, and you’ll generally have better luck finding larger community solar programs in places where there’s legislation supporting the solar industry.

Additionally, some areas are just better suited for community solar programs than others — creating and maintaining these solar farms requires lots of land with access to unblocked sunshine.

Among the states that have legislation mandating community solar, not every one has implemented projects on a wide scale as of yet. This means your local program might not have room for you to subscribe yet, but you should keep your eye on solar farm expansion in your area.

Community solar advocacy: Solar equity near you

Don’t have community solar near you? Clean energy advocates say you can be part of the solution just by showing up.

“One of the most important things that people can do is going to public utility commission meetings and getting involved with your local PUC,” said Phoebe Lease, a 25-year-old account manager at Tigercomm. “You need to have an input on zoning, getting solar projects approved and that sort of thing.”

Lease said that, in her experience, it’s often a vocal minority of people that form the bulk of the opposition to community solar programs and other solar projects. Meanwhile, the majority of people either approve of solar power or remain neutral on the subject, but they don’t go out of their way to voice their opinions to their representatives.

While there are parts of the country that are extremely skeptical of the solar industry, it’s true that most people hold largely positive sentiments for solar power.

The Pew Research Center reported in 2022 that 72% of American adults think the federal government should encourage the production of wind and solar energy. The same report also found that 69% of American adults support the US taking steps to become carbon neutral by 2050.

“Strength comes in numbers,” Quirin said. “The more Gen Zers that adopt renewable energy, the greater impact we make. So I think it’s important to spread the word and get other Gen Zers to be a part of community solar programs, and try to get your state to pass bills for community solar programs.”

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

Similar Posts