Kresge Investments Accelerate Community Solar Projects in Underserved Areas

Millions of dollars in investments to organizations to increase the implementation of solar energy projects in communities of color and low-income areas in the United States are being offered by the Kresge Foundation.

The investments, which currently amount to approximately $7 million, will provide capital and other support efforts to organizations with strong community partnerships, an identified market, and a readiness to scale climate finance projects in the community, according to Kresge. The organizations will need to be what Kresge calls “co-developers,” which are groups striving to educate their communities regarding clean energy, as well as those working on designing, facilitating, financing, and managing solar, energy storage, and community solar systems.

Kresge says by improving the co-developer organizations’ business models they can take on more energy deals and learn about and help positively impact community-based solar projects in underserved markets. Overall, the goal of the grants is to make sure communities of black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and those with low wealth are not left behind in clean energy transitions, the organization says.

“We want to ensure that communities of color and disinvested communities have equitable access to public and private capital for climate and energy needs,” says Joe Evans, Kresge’s social investment practice portfolio director and social investment officer. “As a country, we will not reach our climate goals if the focus is only on wealthy people and places and large corporations. We envision a future where a robust network of co-developers makes the latest technology and approaches to clean energy, efficiency, and resilience available in BIPOC communities and communities with low wealth in American cities.”

The focus on community programs has gained recent traction with energy transitions and legislation.

California passed a bill specifically geared toward community renewable energy. The legislation requires the California Public Utilities Commission to ensure the creation and financing of viable community renewable energy facilities as well as financial incentives for facilities that have low-income subscribers or for organizations that serve disadvantaged communities.

On the federal level, the Inflation Reduction Act’s energy and climate incentives include a $1 billion grant to make affordable housing energy efficient, tax credits for low- and middle-income earners to buy electric vehicles, and more than $6 billion for underserved community-related improvements. Last year the Department of Energy also established the National Community Solar Partnership.

Earlier in 2022, a project called Reactivate was unveiled that plans to develop 3 gigawatts of renewable energy for underserved communities, including energy storage, building electrification, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. White Plains, New York, also broke ground on a 6.8-megawatt project in 2021.

By the end of 2021, the National Renewable Energy Library listed 22 states and Washington, D.C., with community solar policies, with community energy projects taking place in 17 other states. Overall, there are 3.2 GW of community solar installations in the US.

Kresge is prioritizing investments for organizations that provide education, design, oversight, and financing of resilient energy systems for critical community facilities, such as healthcare centers and places of worship. The organization has currently awarded nearly $7 million to three projects:

  • Collective Energy, an Ojai, California-based startup, is receiving a $2 million loan and a $1 million guarantee to bring solar-plus-storage systems to federally qualified health centers and community health centers.
  • RE-volv, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, is receiving a $1.5 million loan and a $1 million guarantee to build solar systems at BIPOC places of worship and other community-serving nonprofits in partnership with Green the Church and Interfaith Power and Light.
  • Working Power Impact Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based subsidiary of Urban Ingenuity, will receive a $1.1 million loan to develop solar energy for environmental justice groups and affordable housing developments.

Kresge says in 2021 it will explore a grantmaking strategy in alignment with the current solar investments.