Morgan Carroll: Soapbox
December 13, 2008
Lets face it. We all realize that we need energy independence from hostile and unstable countries and that, for the sake of our planet and health, we need to find and switch to new energy sources. But who can afford it?There are dozens of options that ordinary homeowners can do to their homes to save energy and go green. But even with rebates, the price for solar or other residential renewable options has remained out of reach for many conscientious citizens who would otherwise go green.So what if we could do monthly payments or other options to make financing more affordable? We can.One of the key obstacles to leasing or monthly payment plans is preventing third-party ownership allowed for systems under 10 kilowatts (the size of a typical household system). With this barrier removed there are several investors poised to invest in Colorados economy and help make the installation, equipment and maintenance affordable for the majority of Coloradans.There are even ways to save money on bill payment assistance to include low-income financing arrangements as well to convert homes into solar or other renewable avenues. We as a state and country spend hundreds of millions of dollars on bill payment assistance to help the low-income pay their utility bill. Just in Colorado, one in five households request bill payment assistance. Nationwide, the costs of this program have kept increasing with rising cost of energy. One would think that we would create policies that would incentivize and promote programs that would reduce the need for bill payment assistance.The International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology (iCAST) initiated a program to provide free solar energy to 1,000 low-income families in Colorado. Providing energy efficiency and solar solutions will reduce the utility bill for low-income families for the life of the installation (typically 30 years) and stop the annual bill payment assistance needed by these families. It is a program that teaches folks how to fish rather than provide the annual fish allocation. However, it will take not only a change of thinking but a change of policy to facilitate these longer-term cost-savings.The capitol building now has solar panels, as does the governors residence. Both installations will provide benefits far beyond the clean energy generated from the photovoltaic (PV) panels, including community awareness gained by Colorado residents on solar energy. Colorado taxpayer money was not spent on these installations because a third party investor stepped in to cover the costs. The investors made this purchase because they could recover the funds. Returns include a variety of rebates, incentives and federal tax credits. Unfortunately, a low-income family or organization is unable to avail of the same opportunity because they dont have a tax liability to begin with nor can they monetize tax credits and depreciation allowances.By keeping solar energy and other similar clean energy technologies out of the reach of regular or low-income families, we are implying that these technologies are only for the wealthy. We can increase affordable choices and access to the renewable energy economy for all Coloradans and create good jobs in the process. Weve challenged everyone to be part of the solution, now lets make sure we can all afford to participate in the solution.If we allow third-party ownership agreements in Colorado (leasing, lease-to-own) and encourage multiple financing options at affordable price-points for regular people, we can not only increase our energy independence and save money, but we can also trigger economic investment and jobs creation in Colorado.
Senator-Elect Morgan Carroll from senate district 29 (Aurora) is a consumer and civil rights attorney and served in the state legislature for four years. Editors note: Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for residents to comment on local topics. If youd like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at 925-3414, ext. 17624, or send her an e-mail at email@example.com.
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