Sun, sun, son, here it is: a solar future


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I’ll say this: it’s wonderful to be an empty nest!

I love my boys, but I’m also incredibly grateful that they are grown up and out of the house. I haven’t driven anyone to baseball practice for a long time. I didn’t cook giant meals to feed those giant mouths. I didn’t wait for them to come back from a date or a prom. I love them very much and support everything they do as they discover adulthood. I also really appreciate that they are out of the house.

The downside is that basically the only communication I get from them are texts like “can I maybe get some money?” Or, “is it possible to send money for gasoline anyway?” Or “can I have some money for dinner?” Or, “I have to go out with the guys for dinner just for tonight, anyway, I can have a $.” (EDITOR’S NOTE: These are real texts from my son. All spelling, grammar and punctuation have been retained in the original texts. Has he ever told me who “the guys” are? No .)

Here’s the problem with this time of life – all of a sudden I have a little more money than I spend on all those crazy groceries and utility bills. Having said that, I now see this as a great opportunity for credit unions to step in and help guide those empty nests in the solar lending world.

A few years ago, I finally decided to buy solar panels for the house. I basically did a one-stop-shop, purchasing, financing, installing, and certifying with the city all being handled by one company. There have been some delays due to a shortage of workers and a massive backup of the city’s certifications. When finished, I was able to get enough panels to produce 95-99% of the electricity needed to power the house. While I have a monthly payment to the finance company, the utility bills each month have been around $ 5 maximum or a $ 12 to $ 15 discount.

For me, the real plus is that the maintenance is covered for 20 years and the ownership of the panels is easily transferred if the house is sold.

After more than two years of empty nest solar life, my overall take on this experience was, “Why isn’t everyone doing this?” I understand that not everyone is capable of this, especially depending on geography and affordability, but the affordability aspect may soon be a much easier hurdle to overcome.

Last month, the US Department of Energy and Solar Energy Technologies Office, along with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a plan – a very ambitious plan – to increase solar power generation by 4% in 2020 to 40 % by 2035 and 45% by 2050.

The plan, called the “Solar Futures Study”, revolves around “aggressive cost reductions, support policies and large-scale electrification” of the country’s electricity grid. Yes, this plan is focused on the transition to a carbon-free electricity grid due to the negative impacts we are seeing from climate change. However, from a credit union perspective, I feel there is a greater benefit to this plan, along with several supporting scientific studies, showing how the cost of solar panels has gone downhill. dropped and continues to drop considerably. Costs have fallen so much that it is now the cheapest source of energy in many parts of the United States

“The study sheds light on the fact that solar power, our cheapest and fastest growing clean energy source, could produce enough electricity to power every home in the United States by 2035 and employ up to 1.5 million people in the process, ”the US secretary said. Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said.

NREL released a fascinating report that I think credit union leaders and loan officers would find just as fascinating. The report “Affordable and Accessible Solar for All: Barriers, Solutions and On-Premises Adoption Potential” was published in September. colored. In California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, households (usually households of color) earning $ 45,000 or less per year represent 25% of the population, but only 13% of solar installations.

When it comes to home ownership by people of color, one of the NREL studies found that “majority black census tracts installed 61% fewer PV panels on rooftops than non-majority areas. , and the Hispanic-majority areas installed 45% less, while the white-majority census tracts installed 37% more; this report focuses on income as an indicator of unequal access to solar energy, in part because of the data needs associated with other demographic indicators. “

Study after study referenced by NREL has shown that low and moderate income (LMI) households have less access to disposable income, meaning that the high upfront costs of rooftop solar can be “a substantial barrier” .

As many credit unions have partnered with third parties to provide financing and installation, NREL studies have found that these partnerships do not necessarily work for IMT households. “Third-party ownership models and community solar power may provide low-income households with a lower financial benefit than high-income households, as low- to moderate-income customers tend to use less electricity at home. departure, which reduces their bills. the transition to a cheaper solar option.

The barriers to providing solar lending products to IMTs are many, but NREL believes that there are options for credit unions. One possibility is a mass solar lending program, which would allow those with low credit scores to access solar financing and “the loan loss reserve is a fixed revolving account that acts as a form of insurance for lenders by containing public funds held in reserve to cover potential losses that loan providers may incur if a customer defaults on a loan.

Other financing options are invoice financing and direct initiatives that can benefit multi-family homes, regardless of owner or tenant status. These practices are not dependent on credit scores.

Certainly, there are several credit unions that have partnered with different solar companies. These partnerships have created amazing solar loan products for their members. Almost a decade ago, the multibillion-dollar Technology Credit Union of San Jose, Calif., First plunged its renewables into a partnership with Tesla to support the financing of the electric automobile. Since then, Tech CU has launched residential and commercial solar loans, and by the end of 2019, it had funded more than $ 1 billion in solar panel loans. Last year, the credit union announced it would invest $ 1 billion in financing residential solar loans through a partnership with sustainable energy company SunPower.

Earlier this year, Tech CU extended its funding agreement that began in 2015 with another company, Sunlight Financial. The credit union has pledged to fund nearly $ 2.5 billion in residential solar and storage systems sold and installed by Sunlight’s partner contractors over the next three years. According to the credit union, this is enough to finance 75,000 solar systems.

There are many options, some more complicated than others, for credit unions to serve this growing renewable energy market for all income levels.

It is not a liberal and far-fetched idea. This is where our country and the world are heading. I’m excited to see what new renewable energy loan programs are coming from our credit unions to help members save money on their bills. Because that money saved can help pay for groceries when the kids come home for the holidays to eat… a lot.

Michael ogden

Michael Ogden is editor-in-chief of CU Times. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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