Solar program served 36 homes
Low-, moderate-income households can apply for $1M available per year
The Tran family in City Heights had rooftop solar panels installed as part of the San Diego Solar Equity Program. (Rob Nikolewski U-T)
By Rob Nikolewski
City Heights resident Carolyn Tran and her brother looked into the San Diego Solar Equity Program , an initiative that installs solar systems in low-to-moderate-income neighborhoods at little or no cost. They filled out an application, got accepted and soon had panels installed on the back roof of their family home.
“Definitely for us, it brought down our energy bill,” Tran said. “We’re trying to make it comfortable for our parents so they can save for their retirement.”
The Tran family is one of 36 homeowners to benefit from the $10 million initiative funded by San Diego Gas & Electric . Created as part of the franchise agreement the city of San Diego signed with SDG&E in 2021, the Solar Equity Program sets aside $1 million per year for solar installations.
The money comes from SDG&E shareholders, not ratepayer funds.
The idea for the program was introduced by City Councilmember Raul Campillo during the long and sometimes tense negotiations between the city and SDG&E officials. Adding the solar equity program helped push a new 20-year franchise agreement across the finish line.
Solar has “been around for a while but we know it’s been expensive,” Campillo said Thursday during a news conference marking the first full year of the program. “So how can we deliver for families who don’t have the $20,000, the $30,000, the $40,000 in their bank account to install this?”
Some 36 homeowners saw solar installed atop their homes in the program’s inaugural year and 80 percent of the participants had incomes at 80 percent or lower than the median income in the San Diego area.
“Low-income families spend as much as three times more than the average household on energy,” said Jae Berg, director of distributed energy resources at the Center for Sustainable Energy , which administers the program. “The Solar Equity Program will provide San Diego families much-needed relief by reducing monthly energy costs and freeing up some household funds for other necessities and expenses.”
Applicants must be residents of the city of San Diego and live in an area with very low, low or moderate access to socioeconomic opportunities, as defined by the city’s Climate Equity Index .
Participants must be considered low- or moderate-income based on the San Diego County area median income, which varies each year. For example, the program’s low-income limit in 2022 came to $104,100 or lower for a family of four and the 2022 moderate-income limit was $128,300 or below.
Eligibility requirements are rolled out in three phases, with details available at https://sdsolarequity.org/eligibility .
Single-family homes, duplexes, quadplexes and manufactured homes are all eligible.
Other requirements include:
• the solar energy system must be owned by the customer
• any solar companies taking part must hold an active license with the California Contractors State License Board
• contractors must pay prevailing wages to all installers, and
• contractors must consult with homeowners on their energy needs and help them with the required paperwork.
Potential customers and solar installers can fill out an interest form at the program’s website, SDSolarEquity.org .
Under a franchise agreement, a municipality allows a utility to use the public right-of-way to install and maintain infrastructure — such as poles, wires and pipes — to deliver power to customers.
In May 2021, the San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to sign a new contract with SDG&E by agreeing to what Mayor Todd Gloria called a “10-plus-10” pact that runs for 10 years and an automatic renewal for another 10 years.
Under the terms of the deal, if the city is unhappy “for any reason” with SDG&E, it has a window to void the 10-year automatic renewal, provided a two-thirds vote of the City Council agrees. The extension can also be nullified if the city decides to pursue creating its own municipally run power company or if it determines a breach of the agreement has occurred.
Solar program served 36 homes