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Citing success, Louisville plans to sign up more residents for solar

Solar panels against a blue sky
Wikimedia Commons
Nearly 100 families and businesses signed up for solar panels in the first year of the Solar Over Louisville program.

After a successful first year in which almost 100 families and businesses agreed to solarize their property, Louisville Metro is planning to renew its solar energy campaign next year.

Metro Government began partnering with the Louisville Sustainability Council in 2022 on the Solar Over Louisville program. It provided residents and business owners in central Kentucky with an opportunity to leverage collective buying power and get discounts on solar energy equipment. The 92 property owners who signed contracts over the past year made Louisville’s program the third largest solar group purchasing campaign in the country, city officials said.

Sumedha Rao, sustainability coordinator for Louisville Metro, said the program also vets the credentials of solar installation companies to partner with a trusted provider.

“Especially since solar is relatively new in this area, a lot of people feel like they have to have a physics degree before they know how to get solar on their homes,” Rao said. “We’re just trying to remove that barrier.”

As part of its efforts to connect solar energy companies with interested residents, the Solar Over Louisville program provided seven low-income families with solar arrays at no cost to them. The city spent $113,000 in federal funding, known as Community Development Block Grants, to subsidize solarization in communities with higher concentrations of minority and low- to moderate-income residents.

Rao said putting solar panels on a roof and connecting them to the energy grid costs around $20,000 on average. Although the grant recipients did not receive batteries that could store the excess solar energy they generate, it can be sold to LG&E for use elsewhere.

The process of selling back energy produced by rooftop solar arrays is known as net-metering. The rate small-time solar producers receive is set by Kentucky’s Public Service Commission and utility companies have sought to pay less than what regulators say that energy is worth.

“A lot of these families are struggling with paying their utility bills currently, so putting solar on their roof is a great way to save money on that and have some additional disposable income that they can use for other things in their lives,” she said.

Rao added that many minority communities continue to feel the effects of redlining and other racist housing policies, such as increased air pollution and higher energy costs.

“It’s a great way to include these communities that have historically faced these environmental justice issues to become part of the green energy transition without the cost burden,” she said.

Outgoing Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer signed an executive order in October committing to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. It replaced the city’s previous goal of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.

In a statement, Louisville Sustainability Council Executive Director Julia Murray said the Solar Over Louisville program is just one strategy for reaching emissions reduction goals while also “prioritizing our most vulnerable communities.”

“Every educational workshop and solar install gets us one step closer to reaching Louisville's city-wide sustainability goals,” Murray said.

The city and Sustainability Council are currently accepting bids from solar energies companies who want to be the official installer for the 2023 campaign. They plan to start taking applications from area residents and business owners in February. Sign-up forms will be available at 100percentlou.com/2040.

Not every home or business is a great fit for solar energy. Louisville officials will evaluate applications based on the configuration of their roof and nearby objects that shade the property. Properties with south-facing roofs and a lack of tall trees are generally better candidates for solarization.

Correction: A previous version of this story described the wrong ideal orientation for solar panels on roofs.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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