Celebrating affordable solar savings for affordable housing!


Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative participates in a pilot to bring deep solar savings to five of its affordable housing properties.


In the community lounge of Abbott View Apartments, there’s many causes for celebration! 


Rooftop sola rFirst, those ‘Cooperative Energy Futures’ folks just installed bright new LED light bulbs in the lounge. Second, some Abbot View-ers are trying sambusas for the first time… and have just found their new favorite restaurant. Third, the TV is playing drone footage of the big, shiny new solar panels on their roof (several cheers of ‘I told you they were real!’ were directed at the doubters). But the cause for celebration that dwarfed them all was residents’ feeling that they were involved in getting those panels up there and that they helped their neighbors achieve deep energy savings on their electric bills. 

Abbott View is an affordable apartment complex owned by Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, a mission-driven affordable housing developer and property owner in the Twin Cities. Beacon operates over 700 units of housing, 85% of which is deeply affordable. Kevin Walker, Beacon’s Vice President of Housing Development, has been strategizing about not just how to solarize each of Beacon’s properties, but also how to pass those energy savings to the families who live there. He applied for a CERTs Seed Grant to participate in an exciting solar pilot and do just that.

A solar-ific start

Beacon started their solar journey in 2019, in a partnership with Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF). CEF is a Minneapolis-based solar co-op with an emphasis on equity and bringing benefits of the clean energy transition to underserved communities. That year, CEF had completed a community solar garden on Parking Ramp A by Target Field. Community solar is a great option for residents who want to receive the cost-saving benefits of solar, but can’t install solar where they live. Instead, they can ‘subscribe’ to a portion of an off-site solar array and receive the savings on the electricity their solar panels produce each month.

CEF’s community solar parking garage array was special because it was designed specifically to help low-income residents. Beacon’s role was that they teamed up with CEF to enroll residents at Lydia Apartments, Beacon’s first supportive housing development, into the cost-saving program.

Deepening the partnership and the savings

As their partnership with CEF deepened into 2022, and with the implementation support of a CERTs Seed Grant, Beacon enrolled five of their other affordable Minneapolis properties in a pilot of CEF’s brand-new ‘Affordable Solar’ program. This special pilot program was free for Beacon to join and would offer participating residents of these buildings energy bill savings of ~30% (also for free - no upfront cost!). These savings through CEF’s Affordable Solar program are much greater than what they can offer through their community solar program. This is because of the way the panels are set up and the additional incentives they can take advantage of.

Rooftop solarTo break it down, the Affordable Solar panels are installed on the roof of the building receiving the benefits, and the panels are wired directly into each participating resident’s meter. Community solar is usually installed off-site and members of the general public can subscribe; since CEF’s Affordable Solar program is designed specifically for the affordable housing residents who live in the building their solar panels are installed on, the program can use additional solar incentives that are specific to affordable housing with income-qualified residents. 

On top of supporting their residents, Beacon was also able to wire some of their own ‘Common Area Meters,’ which measure electric use in non-occupied spaces (like hallways, community areas, etc.). This meant they were able to save some money on their own electric bills too.  

Walker says that these deeper savings are important for residents living in affordable housing. “Inherently when you do anything that helps a resident in that situation stabilize or improve their disposable income, that’s a net benefit to the owner of that housing.”  He noted that it improves residents’ housing security, a benefit for both the resident and property owner alike.

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The build up

The process for Beacon was surprisingly simple. The biggest hurdles to clear were ensuring roof feasibility, installing the solar, and getting residents to enroll in the program — all of which CEF covered.

To help encourage resident enrollment, CEF called on their outreach partners at Community Power. Toya Lopez, CEF Subscription Outreach Associate, described CEF’s resident outreach approach as, “Whatever time, whatever place, we will try to make ourselves available for what your timeline is.” The two groups did several door-knockings at each property, often alongside the building’s property manager. An additional Green Grant from Hennepin County allowed them to provide energy efficiency supplies like low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators to residents while they learned about solar. The Green Grant also provided food (read: sambusas) for residents during ‘office hour’ Q&A sessions CEF and Community Power would host in building community spaces. Having multiple opportunities for points of contact with residents to answer any and all questions about the program helped build trust.

Time to party!

Rooftop solarOf course, when you’re doing solar work as cool as this, you can’t not party at the end! Alice, Community Power’s Energy Democracy staffperson, recalls some sentimental conversations she had at the celebration and attributes it to the way the outreach process deeply engaged residents and the way the Affordable Solar program is designed: “We had someone say, ‘When we’ve gotten help from other places, we’ve felt kind of bad afterwards, this was a really good experience.’” Alice continued by emphasizing what makes this project special to affordable housing residents. “This is real. This is for you. You are included. And by the way, it’s stabilizing your housing costs and there’s ways for you to be involved in this clean energy transition.”

Beacon considers it a successful pilot, and is looking to bring the program to more buildings in their portfolio in 2023 and 2024. In total, with 165.78kW of solar installed, Beacon is looking at a 25-year savings of $132,000 on their participating buildings, and $239,000 savings for their participating residents (that’s an annual average savings of approximately $504 per resident!) 

Kevin sums up the opportunity to affordable housing developers and property owners simply: “The bottom line is that the costs for a solar array are way the heck less than they used to be... And between incentives that are out there, which… CEF solves [that] for you here, you [as a property owner] experience it as a zero downstroke new solar option. And as long as your roof’s in good shape or needs to be changed out already, I’d recommend doing this with CEF, and starting to strengthen your operations — and, while you’re at it, your residents’ household budgets too. It’s a win-win!”


Clean Energy Focus: Community solar gardens for benefit of commons and residents of multifamily buildings

Metro CERT Seed Grant: $5,000

Other Funds Leveraged: community solar company in-kind labor, private donor, in-kind legal assistance

Energy Generated Each Year: 178,410 kWh

People Involved and Reached: 68

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