MAKING SOLAR PANELS AFFORDABLE & SUSTAINABLE FOR EVERY NEW YORKER

MEMORANDUM

TO: GOVERNOR CUOMO

FROM: DARA FERGUSON, AFRICANA STUDIES AND POLITICAL SCIENCE DOUBLE MAJOR AT DAVIDSON COLLEGE

SUBJECT: MAKING SOLAR PANELS AFFORDABLE & SUSTAINABLE FOR EVERY NEW YORKER

DATE: APRIL 11TH, 2016

 

An investment in solar power is an investment for a better tomorrow. New York City should take the lead on creating affordable and feasible solar power initiatives for all of its residents. As governor, it is important that you create a Solar Energy Plan that will help all socio-economic backgrounds conserve energy to make New York City greener. Recently, The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) revealed a $13 million dollars budget for the improvement of solar power in low-to-moderate household incomes.1 The current design plan of this initiative does not take into account the actual needs of low-to-moderate household income families. In this memo, I have detailed a four possible amendments to the current plan. Each amendment differs in tactic, but the end result will make solar panels affordable and sustainable for every New Yorker.

 

THE CURRENT PLAN

The Affordable Solar Plan is not affordable. Under the current plan, residents with low-to-moderate household incomes are guaranteed a lower initial cost for installing solar panels, which can range from $13,000 to $25,000 coupled with an incentive program.2 3 Most low income families cannot afford to spend $13,000 dollars on solar panels, and banks do not give impoverished individuals huge loans. Additionally, the average household income in New York is $58,687, while the minimum wage of $9.00 an hour produces a household income of $18,720. 4 5 Thus, the Affordable Solar Plan does not erase the monetary barrier of sustainable practices, but instead reinforces the class gap and makes sustainable practices only possible for the middle to upper class.  This memo evaluates four amendments to this plan.

 

FOUR AMENDMENTS

  1. EDUCATION – Sustainability is a concept for the rich. People who live in low-income communities do not have the time nor the energy to focus on sustainable practices. This is not to say impoverished people are not aware of the benefits of sustainable practices, but it is to highlight the privileges around being sustainable. New York City needs to develop programs that show low-income communities the benefits of solar energy and sustainable practices. These programs would entail think tank groups, where community organizers can brainstorm ideas with local government about sustainable ways to improve their districts. This educational focus would allow residents to utilize the government to lead more sustainable lives. It would be advantageous for New York City to fund these educational programs, because it would give low-income residents agency over their communities and show that sustainability is achievable for any socio-economic status.
  2. IMPLEMENTATION – Currently, The Affordable Solar Plan does not offer solutions to the monetary hurdle that obtaining solar panels poses. The plan details a decrease in starting costs, but does not specify as to how much.6 New York City needs to make the Affordable Solar Plan transparent by breaking down the benefits, incentives and monetary discounts for each socio-economic bracket. For instance, residents who earn $60,000 or less a year should receive free solar panels with the caveat that the extra energy produced the government gets utilize to make a profit for the first 5 years. Additionally, those residents in the middle-income bracket who take out loans should have the interest rates on the loans absorbed by the government. Sustainable practices benefit everyone, however the cost of implementation needs to be the same for every individual. Providing a better implementation plan for the Affordable Solar Plan would lift the monetary burned off of low-income residents and make solar energy affordable for everyone.
  3. MAINTENANCE – The state of New York must give incentives to solar panel companies to do year checkup and efficiency tests on the solar panels in the low-income communities. Increasing maintenance would enable the solar panels that are already installed to work efficiently. This will not only insure that the system is working, but solidify the low-income communities trust in the government. A lot of times politicians create legislation and implement it, but then never follow up. The follow up part is important because it continues to enforce the importance of sustainable energy and a want for a clean city for everyone.
  4. SELF SUFFICIENCY – Self-sufficiency is the most feasible and important amendment. To create this self-sufficient solar energy system in low income neighborhoods, the government must equip low-income residents with the tools to become self-sufficient. Thus, the amendment focusing on self-sufficiency contains parts of all three of the previously-mentioned amendments. First, the government must educate low-income residents, so that they can then continue to educate more people. Second, the government must make policies that are easy for people to understand, so they will want to implement sustainable practices themselves. Lastly, the government must find a way to keep solar energy costs low, so that there will be more benefits than costs. The amendment of self-sufficiency enables low-income residents to take pride in eco-friendly practices and maintain solar panels on their own.

 

CRITERIA FOR DECISION ANALYSIS

  • POLITICAL COSTS AND BENEFITS – There will be political drawbacks in passing a policy that helps give low-income communities solar panels. Many will see this program as a handout for the poor and focus less on affordable sustainability and more on using tax dollars for programs not benefiting the majority. On the other hand, this proposal has the potential to make you a more likable governor by low-income residents. The costs outweigh the political benefits.
  • ECONOMIC COSTS AND BENEFITS – Economically this program seems to have a low feasibility. The economic costs are really high and people may be hesitant to utilize the entire $13-million-dollar budget in this manner. However, the benefits of good implementation and the educational component are seen in the table in the appendix. Thus, utilizing the budget for good programing and affordable solar panels will harness the greatest economic benefit in the long run, even though the cost may seem high in the short run.
  • SOCIAL COSTS AND BENEFITS – Increasing the number of solar panels will be beneficial to every New Yorker. New York will be a cleaner city and the air will feel fresher, because of this sustainable practices. Additionally, this increase will make sustainability in New York a popular topic and raise awareness. Making sustainability affordable will help low-income communities work toward a greener earth. Additionally, this policy will help change the stigma around sustainability and help incorporate more money saving opportunities for the impoverished.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS AND BENEFITS – The increase in the number of solar panels will help make New York City a greener city and an eco-friendlier place to live.

 

RECOMMENDATION

Based on the scoring system (see appendix), self-sufficiency ranked the highest overall when weighing the political, economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits. This is due to the important role self-sufficiency plays in the social and environmental sphere. Socially, self-sufficiency is important because people do not enjoy government intervention. Thus, if residents are able to understand sustainability and live sustainable lives without the government’s help they would be more willing to do it. Yet, self-sufficiency can only occur if the policy is implemented correctly and the residents are educated in the right manner. To create affordable solar power one must access the needs of the low-income residents and work to make them self-sufficient.

 

APPENDIX

OPTIONS Political Costs and Benefits Economic Costs and Benefits Social Costs and Benefits Environmental Costs and Benefits Weighted Score
Criteria Weight 0.15 0.25 0.30 0.30 1.oo
Education 2 1 3 3 2.35
Implementation 2 1 3 3 2.35
Maintenance 1 1 2 3 1.9
Self-Sufficiency 1 2 3 3 2.45

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. “NYSERDA.” Announces Increased Access to Solar for Low- to Moderate-Income Homeowners -. Accessed March 21, 2016. http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/About/Newsroom/2015-Announcements/2015-11-05-NYSERDA-Announces-Increased-Accesst-to-Solar
  2. “Affordable Solar.” Affordable Solar. Accessed March 21, 2016. http://ny-sun.ny.gov/affordablesolar.
  3. “Financing Options for NY-Sun Incentive Program.” Financing Options. Accessed March 21, 2016. http://ny-sun.ny.gov/Get-Solar/NY-Sun-Financing.
  4. “Population Estimates, July 1, 2015, (V2015).” New York QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau” Accessed March 21, 2016. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/36.
  5. “Department of Labor.” Minimum Wages. Accessed March 21, 2016.
  6. “Affordable Solar.” Affordable Solar. Accessed March 21, 2016. http://ny-sun.ny.gov/affordablesolar.

 

 

“Affordable Solar.” Affordable Solar. Accessed March 21, 2016. http://ny-sun.ny.gov/affordablesolar.

“Department of Labor.” Minimum Wages. Accessed March 21, 2016.

http://www.labor.ny.gov/workerprotection/laborstandards/workprot/minwage.shtm.

“Financing Options for NY-Sun Incentive Program.” Financing Options. Accessed March 21, 2016. http://ny-sun.ny.gov/Get-Solar/NY-Sun-Financing.

“NYSERDA.” Announces Increased Access to Solar for Low- to Moderate-Income Homeowners -. Accessed March 21, 2016. http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/About/Newsroom/2015-Announcements/2015-11-05-NYSERDA-Announces-Increased-Accesst-to-Solar.

“NYSERDA.” Income Guidelines -. Accessed March 21, 2016. http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/affordable-solar-income-guidelines.

“Population Estimates, July 1, 2015, (V2015).” New York QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau” Accessed March 21, 2016. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/36.

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