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About the Community Power Accelerator

An initiative of the National Community Solar Partnership

The Community Power Accelerator brings together investors, philanthropic organizations, developers, community-based organizations, and technical experts in one online ecosystem to accelerate the deployment of the funds needed to drive a more equitable clean energy transition. This online platform is creating a pipeline of credit-ready community solar projects—particularly those that provide benefits to underserved communities—and connect them with mission-aligned investors and philanthropic organizations to get funding.

The platform is part of the Community Power Accelerator, a program of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP), which supports the rapid expansion of community solar through increased investment and funding.

Equitable access to project funding is one of the most persistent barriers to community solar development, as noted in the DOE Equitable Access to Community Solar Request for Information. To get smaller community solar projects deployed, especially in underserved communities, developers need ways to build expertise, expand capacity, and access predevelopment funds to prepare and meet funding application thresholds.

Community solar projects should provide meaningful benefits to the communities they serve. The goal of the Community Power Accelerator is to facilitate and finance more community solar projects that provide the meaningful benefits identified by NCSP:

  • Low-to-Moderate income (LMI) Household Access
  • Greater Household Savings
  • Increased Resilience and Grid Benefits
  • Community Ownership or Other Wealth-Building Opportunities, and
  • Equitable Workforce Development

The Community Power Accelerator is designed to help achieve this goal by helping you:

  • Gain Expertise: Designed for new, small developers and community-based organizations, our Learning Lab offers online training to get you ready to start a new community solar project or program.
  • Plan Your Projects: We provide free technical assistance services to help you complete the Credit-Ready Checklist.
  • Focus on Equity: We advise you on incorporating meaningful benefits for communities into your project plan and recruit equity-focused investors and philanthropic organizations.
  • Get Projects Funded: Our online platform provides a place to shop your credit-ready projects around to verified project developers, investors, and philanthropic organizations.

Learn more about how it works.

About the National Community Solar Partnership

NCSP is a coalition of community solar stakeholders working to expand access to affordable community solar. Led by the Department of Energy, NCSP partners leverage peer networks and technical assistance resources to set goals and overcome barriers to expanding community solar access. NCSP is working towards a 2025 target of powering the equivalent of 5 million American households with community solar, generating $1 billion in energy bill savings.

Graphic illustrating what the National Community Partnership represents. Pathway to Success: technical expertise and capacity building, state engagement, access to capital, customer engagement, hearts and minds - resulting in: 5 million households and $1 billion in savings, an average 20% energy bill reduction, 700% increase in community solar capacity, and meaningful benefits such as resilience, career opportunities, and community wealth buidling.

Meaningful Benefits

Through stakeholder request for information feedback and other stakeholder engagements, NCSP has identified key outcomes of community solar programs and projects that should benefit subscribers and their communities. The five community solar outcomes that have been identified as meaningful benefits are:

Greater household savings

Provide or support at least a 20% reduction in annual electricity bills and/or provide financial benefits equivalent to a 20% bill reduction for all residential subscribers to a project.

Example: At least 40% of the number of subscribers to a project or program come from LMI households.

Example: At least 40% of the generation capacity of a project is subscribed to LMI households.

LMI household access

Include or support at least 40% of subscribers from LMI households. (See Key Terms below for guidance on how to define LMI households.)

Example: A project or program may deliver a monthly electricity bill savings of 20% or more for all residential subscribers.

Example: Monthly bill savings may vary but the project or program provides a 20% average electricity bill savings, as compared to non-subscribers paying the same rates, over the course of at least six months.

Resilience and grid benefits

Include or support the capability to deliver power to households and/or critical facilities during a grid outage and/or strengthen grid operations through strategic siting, demand response, and other actions.

Example: The project includes battery storage that is able to deliver 10 hours of emergency backup power to critical facilities.

Example: The project includes and supplies a microgrid that is able to ‘island’ and continue to deliver power during an outage.

Community ownership

Include or support community ownership of, or equity in, project and/or portfolio assets. Community ownership may also include other wealth-building strategies such as community benefit agreements.

Example: Residential subscribers directly purchase and own 25% of the solar panels within a community solar array.

Example: The community solar project is owned by a member-owned electric cooperative or municipal utility.

Equitable workforce development and entrepreneurship

Support community workforce development by advancing high-wage opportunities, reducing income disparities across demographic groups, ensuring a trained and available workforce that is reflective of the community, and creating a safe working environment and pathways to union membership. Project portfolios and programs should also ensure that women- and minority-owned businesses have equitable opportunity.

Example: The project developer hires and trains community members for related positions, such as in design, construction, or community engagement.

Example: The project developer provides solar career education, leveraging local organizations to target underrepresented participants and highlighting career pathways.

Key Terms

Authentic community engagement: Authentic community engagement includes practices through which community members define and drive the outcomes of the decision-making process to ensure that benefits accrue to the community. When community members are authentically engaged, project developers are accountable and responsive to community priorities and needs, and the outcomes of a program or project will clearly reflect the priorities of community members.

Community benefit agreement: Community benefit agreements are legal agreements between community benefit groups and developers, stipulating the benefits a developer agrees to fund or furnish in exchange for community support of a project. Benefits can include commitments to hire directly from a community, contributions to economic trust funds, local workforce training guarantees, and more. Community benefit agreements are strategic vehicles for community improvement that can also provide benefits to privatesector developers and both state and local governments.

Disadvantaged communities (DACs): The Office of Management and Budget Interim Guidance defines a community as either a group of individuals living in geographic proximity (such as census tract), or a geographically dispersed set of individuals (such as migrant workers or Native Americans), where either type of group experiences common conditions. The DOE working definition for DACs has been developed by an internal and external collaborative research process and includes data for 36 indicators collected at the census tract level. These 36 indicators can be grouped across the following categories (numbers in parentheses show how many indicators fall in that category): fossil dependence (2), energy burden (5), environmental and climate hazards (10), and vulnerability (socioeconomic, housing burden, transportation burdens, etc.) (19).2

Energy insecurity: The inability of a household to meet its basic heating, cooling, and energy needs over time. Frontline communities: Communities that experience the greatest impacts and consequences of climate change. These are often communities of color that were placed in the least desirable areas, often with high exposure to pollution and climate impacts such as flooding.

Low- to moderate-income (LMI): Definitions for LMI vary. For this prize, we are looking for project portfolios or programs that serve LMI populations. In your submission, you must identify the definition you are using. If the state where the project(s) or program is located has an applicable LMI definition, you should use that applicable LMI definition. If your state does not have a definition for LMI populations, or if your project portfolio contains projects across multiple states, you are encouraged to use the federal definition for LMI, which is households at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, or households earning 80% or below of the area median income as defined by the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Socially and economically disadvantaged individuals (SEDIs): Individuals who have had their access to credit on reasonable terms diminished compared to others in comparable economic circumstances, due to their: ● Membership of a group that has been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society ● Gender ● Veteran status ● Limited English proficiency ● Disability ● Long-term residence in an environment isolated from the mainstream of American society ● Membership in a federally or state-recognized American Indian tribe ● Long-term residence in a rural community ● Residence in a U.S. territory ● Residence in a community undergoing economic transitions (including communities impacted by the shift toward a net-zero economy or deindustrialization) ● Membership in an underserved community.