Fighting Inequity with Solar Power

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Installing photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Green Rock Apartments Will Hommeyer A year ago what you find on the Green Rock Apartments complex in northeast Minneapolis was a typical flat roof that bakes in the sun. Today, dozens of south-facing photovoltaic modules absorb sunlight and supply the building with up to 30,000 kilowatts per year – or 100 percent of its electricity needs. The project, installed by local solar developer Adapana Solar Technologies, is part of Minneapolis’ drive to reduce its carbon footprint while increasing the availability of affordable housing in the city. “We’re trying to address climate change,” said Patrick Hanlon, director of environmental programs in Minneapolis. “At the local level, which we are focusing on, these solutions can also be an antidote to inequality.” This is where the city’s 4d Affordable Housing Incentive program comes in, offering tax incentives to landlords who put aside rent-controlled units. To sweeten the pot, builders participating in the program can now also receive discounts from utility companies and the city for installing solar systems and increasing efficiency. The more energy efficient a house is, the less drafty and affordable it will be when it comes to energy costs. And when you look at the extra cold Minnesota winters, those differences in comfort and heating costs can really add up: “Energy efficiency is the cheapest form of energy,” says Ben Passer, director of energy access and equity at Fresh Energy, a group that works partnered with Minneapolis to bring efficiency improvements to residents. “It’s important that everyone has access.” According to Hanlon, the 4d program last year also helped restore almost 1,000 buildings to a including many BIPOC-owned companies that suffered significant damage or burned down during the riots following the assassination of George F. From a Minneapolis police officer. Minneapolis is prioritizing solar development in 4d buildings and in “green zones,” which the city identifies as areas where environmental issues disproportionately affect low-income households and color communities. The aim is to ensure a fairer distribution of the benefits of clean energy and energy efficiency while at the same time keeping the housing with these benefits within financial reach of a larger number of city dwellers. This is a critical need. Since 2010, the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, have gained approximately 75,000 new residents, with Minneapolis’ population (currently 420,000) growing faster than it has been since 1950. The boom is in part due to an increasing number of residents operating in and around the world operate around the two cities. Around the same time, the 2008 recession slowed new housing development, creating a general housing shortage and leading to gentrification. To make matters worse, new buildings were often associated with high rents. To address the problem, the city offered builders some incentives. First, they can join the 4d program if they commit to making at least 20 percent of the units in their buildings affordable for a decade – say, monthly rent of $ 1,164 or less for a bedroom. By keeping rents below these city-set caps, owners get a 40 percent reduction in property taxes on these units. The owner of this building can pay rents thanks to reduced taxes and a 90 percent share of the costs keep a new boiler, water heater and new wall insulation low. City of Minneapolis 4d attendees will also receive an energy audit that will determine how their buildings can be made more energy efficient. Installing wall and attic insulation or replacing stoves are some of the most popular improvements. The city, in partnership with utility Xcel Energy, is even helping walk the bill, which collectively offers $ 0.90 for every dollar spent on certain upgrades. Last year, Minneapolis funded 68 such efficiency-enhancing projects. The 4d program fits well with Minneapolis’s Climate Change Plan, which aims to cut the city’s carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 compared to 2006. To achieve this, Minneapolis was selected as one of 25 cities in the American Cities Climate Challenge, a partnership between Bloomberg Philanthropies, NRDC, Delivery Associates and several other organizations to reduce emissions in the building, energy and transportation sectors. The city has made progress, but its reliance on fossil fuels for heating and cooling buildings has slowed progress. Minneapolis’ 4 Unit Density by Neighborhood, 2018–19 (left) and a detail of the Find My Solar Suitability interactive map of the city (right) City of Minneapolis Sustainability A recent analysis by the University of Minnesota found that Minneapolis had more than 35 percent of its energy can be obtained from the sun. However, solar currently only generates around 1 percent of its needs. However, when you combine solar power with energy efficiency savings as the number of interested 4d building owners grows, that gap begins to close. And now that Minneapolis pl Ant to grow the program as part of its $ 280 million in COVID-19 stimulus spending on health and climate issues, things look even better. Solar installation requires planning, capital, and investment, but it is catching on. The city financed 147 solar systems last year. “We’re a long way from seeing the end of the road,” said Hanlon, director of environmental programs in Minneapolis. Minneapolis also reimburses solar powered 4d buildings for the electricity they generate and offers a higher rate per kilowatt hour for installations within the street green zones. (See a solar eligibility card for buildings in town here.) And y Goke of Adapana Solar Technologies says builders need to find the contractor, but in the end the numbers make financial sense. For example, a federal tax credit might offer a discount large enough for the array to pay for itself within seven years. In the past two years, the city has registered more than 700 residential units that are now preserved as affordable housing. The energy audits and the resulting efficiency projects provide a basis for how much energy buildings can save and where – whether building owners act immediately or a few years later. Dale Howey, owner of Green Rock Apartments, is currently planning to install a solar panel in a small parking garage this spring. As an environmentalist who offers green products and access to renewable energy to its tenants, he said joining the 4d program was an obvious choice. “The 4d plan is an accelerator,” Howey says. “I put solar panels in every damn place I can put them.”

Installation of photovoltaic modules on the roof of the Green Rock Apartments

A year ago what you find at the Green Rock Apartments complex in northeast Minneapolis was a typical flat roof that bakes in the sun. Today, dozens of south-facing photovoltaic modules absorb sunlight and supply the building with up to 30,000 kilowatts per year – or 100 percent of its electricity needs.

The project, which was installed by local solar developer Adapana Solar Technologies, is part of Minneapolis’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions while increasing the availability of affordable housing in the city. “We’re trying to address climate change,” said Patrick Hanlon, director of environmental programs in Minneapolis. “At the local level, which we focus on, these solutions can also be an antidote to inequality.”

This is where the city’s 4d Affordable Housing Incentive Program comes into play, which offers tax incentives to landlords who put rental-controlled units aside. To sweeten the pot, builders who signed up for the program can now also get discounts from utility companies and the city for solar installation and efficiency.

The more energy efficient a house is, the less drafty and affordable it will be when it comes to energy bills. And when you consider Minnesota’s extra cold winters, those differences in comfort and heating bills can really add up.

“Energy efficiency is the cheapest form of energy,” said Ben Passer, director of energy access and equity at Fresh Energy, a group that works with Minneapolis to bring efficiency improvements to residents. “It’s important that everyone has access.” Hanlon said the 4d program also helped rebuild nearly 1,000 buildings over the past year, including many BIPOC-owned companies that suffered significant damage or burned to the ground last May during the riots following George’s killing Floyd by a police officer Minneapolis.

Minneapolis is prioritizing the solar development of 4d buildings and “green zones,” which the city identifies as areas where environmental issues disproportionately affect low-income households and color communities. The aim is to ensure a fairer distribution of the benefits of clean energy and energy efficiency while at the same time keeping the housing with these benefits within financial reach of a larger number of city dwellers.

This is a critical need. Since 2010, the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, have gained approximately 75,000 new residents, with Minneapolis’ population (currently 420,000) growing faster than it has been since 1950. The boom is in part due to an increasing number of residents operating in and around the world operate around the two cities. Around the same time, the 2008 recession slowed new housing development, creating a general housing shortage and leading to gentrification. To make matters worse, new buildings were often associated with high rents.

To address the problem, the city offered builders some incentives. First, they can join the 4d program if they commit to making at least 20 percent of the units in their buildings affordable for a decade – say, monthly rent of $ 1,164 or less for a bedroom. By keeping rents below these city-set caps, owners get a 40 percent reduction in property taxes on these units.

The owner of this building can keep rents low thanks to reduced taxes and a 90 percent share of the costs for a new boiler, water heater and new wall insulation.

4d participants also receive an energy audit that determines how their buildings can be made more energy efficient. Installing wall and attic insulation or replacing stoves are some of the most popular improvements. Working with utility company Xcel Energy, the city even helps clear the bill, offering a combined $ 0.90 for every dollar spent on certain upgrades. Last year, Minneapolis funded 68 such efficiency-enhancing projects.

The 4d program fits well with Minneapolis’s Climate Change Plan, which aims to cut the city’s carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 compared to 2006. To achieve this, Minneapolis was selected as one of 25 cities in the American Cities Climate Challenge Partnership between Bloomberg Philanthropies, NRDC, Delivery Associates and several other organizations to reduce emissions in buildings, energy and transportation. The city has made progress, but its reliance on fossil fuels for heating and cooling buildings has slowed progress.

Minneapolis’ 4-unit density by neighborhood, 2018-19 (left) and a detail of the Find My Solar Suitability interactive map of the city (right)

City of Minneapolis Sustainability

A recent analysis by the University of Minnesota found that Minneapolis gets more than 35 percent of its energy from the sun. However, solar currently only generates around 1 percent of its needs. However, when you combine solar power with energy efficiency savings as the number of interested 4d building owners grows, that gap begins to close. And now that Minneapolis plans to scale up the program as part of its $ 280 million in COVID-19 stimulus spending on health and climate issues, things look even better.

Installing solar systems requires planning, capital and investment, but it is catching on. The city financed 147 solar systems last year. “We’re a long way from seeing the end of the road,” said Hanlon, director of environmental programs for Minneapolis.

Minneapolis also reimburses solar powered 4d buildings for the electricity they generate and offers a higher rate per kilowatt hour for installations within green areas. (A solar eligibility card for buildings in the city can be found here.) Andy Goke of Adapana Solar Technologies says builders need to find the contractor, but in the end the numbers make financial sense. For example, a federal tax credit might offer a discount large enough for the array to pay for itself within seven years.

In the past two years, the city has enrolled more than 700 residential units that are now preserved as affordable housing. The energy audits and the resulting efficiency projects provide a basis for how much energy buildings can save and where – whether building owners act immediately or a few years later.

Dale Howey, owner of Green Rock Apartments, is currently planning to install a solar panel in a small parking garage this spring. As an environmentalist who offers green products and access to renewable energy to its tenants, he said joining the 4d program was an obvious choice. “The 4d plan is an accelerator,” Howey says. “I put solar panels in every damn place I can put them.”

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