Image by Grist / Amelia Bates
The barriers built into Alabama’s energy market are just one example of the political, financial, and regulatory dynamics that can block low- and middle-income households from using rooftop solar power in the Southeast. But this tug-of-war between utility companies, regulators, and solar advocates isn’t just about money.
“It’s a real social justice issue,” says Greer Ryan, a renewable energy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based environmental organization. “Anything that makes it less economical for people to go solar is going to be harmful for low- and median-income consumers,” she says. It’s like raising taxes on people who can least afford it — putting green energy out of reach for everyone but the wealthy.