When life becomes a vicious cycle of living from paycheck to paycheck, being environmentally conscious may not be a priority for some.
Housing in Illinois is already expensive as it is and when utility bills are tacked on to that cost, it can become overwhelming, especially for lower-income residents.
In fact, low-income households in the United States spend a higher percentage of household income on energy costs than their higher-income peers.
According to a study done by the Center for American Progress, low-income household energy spending is more than twice the average for non-low-income households. Solar powered energy could significantly reduce the energy burden on low-income households by providing electricity below local utility rates, the study shows.
Illinois Solar for All recognizes this concern and plays a key role in aiding low-income communities by working to make clean energy more accessible. The Ecology Action Center (EAC) is one of 10 organizations throughout the state, selected by ILSFA, to help educate the community about solar energy.
This state-wide effort relies on funding of grassroots education and it all starts with the local community organizations that understand their communities.
As a grassroots educator, the EAC will be responsible for conducting outreach campaigns in an effort to educate Illinois residents on the basics of solar and the benefits available through the program using methods such as canvassing, open houses and workshops to spread awareness about the program.
In 2016, the Future Energy Jobs Act was passed by Illinois legislation. The act has been considered “a monumental clean energy development” that aims to strengthen the Illinois economy by taking important steps to bolster the state’s clean energy future. Illinois Solar for All is an extension of this act.
Starting this fall, the EAC will host 20 informational presentations and five open houses to provide further information on how the program and solar power works and the benefits of it.
Larissa Armstrong, EAC Assistant Director, believes the program and solar energy in general has more benefits than just helping reduce energy costs.
“Affordable solar for community agencies that serve targeted ILSFA communities is equally important,” Armstrong said. “It will reduce their need to spend limited funding on energy costs and they can instead redirect that income to more programs to serve their constituents.”
“Increased adoption of renewable energy locally and globally leads to reduced greenhouse gas emissions which will improve local air quality and help create a healthier community.”
But while Armstrong feels the EAC has a wide reach, she had to consider that it does not necessarily have direct access to residents in McLean County who are eligible for the program and could greatly benefit from it. She knew that having buy-in from local agencies that already work with low-income community members would be a large role in the program’s success.
“When we reached out and asked …. [they] answered,” she said.
Now in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, Mid-Central Community Action, Western Avenue Community Center, West Bloomington Revitalization Project and Normal Township, the EAC is preparing and eager to expand solar education in the community.
“We are hopeful if someone sees information about the program, but they may not be familiar with our organization, they will at least be familiar with one of our local partner organizations and that will make them more inclined to … learn more about the program,” she said.
Armstrong explained that the participants in these programs see no upfront costs. As a result individuals, not-for-profits and public facilities can “reap the benefits” of solar energy without having to finance the solar installation all at once.