TOLLESBORO, Ky. — More than 10 years ago, People’s Self-Help Housing, Inc. (PSHH) examined barriers keeping its new homes in Lewis County from being affordable for low-income residents. PSHH concluded that spikes in electric rates were threatening the long-term affordability for homeowners with a very tight budget.
PSHH turned to solar to help lower monthly bills for homeowners. Today, 17 solar-powered homes in the Ever Green subdivision in Tollesboro have been built, and all are owner occupied.
People’s Self-Help Housing arranges 30-year mortgages that also include interest subsidies to keep house payments affordable for their clients. In addition, PSHH’s energy-efficient homes significantly reduce energy expenses for households previously living in substandard housing with electric bills often over $400 per month.
These Ever Green homes take energy efficiency to a new level to remove financial barriers to homeownership.
“PSHH set a goal of cutting electricity usage in half for our new homes starting with Ever Green,” said Dave Kreher, executive director of PSHH, which has built 357 energy efficient new homes for low-income households in Lewis County since 1982. “We couldn’t control rate hikes, but we could cut electric usage through solar panels and net metering.”
A Rural Housing and Economic Development grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided the capital for the nonprofit to experiment with the best and most cost-effective way to reduce electric usage. Kreher said it soon became clear that solar arrays and net metering were the best approach. Net metering enables homeowners, small businesses and churches to connect their solar equipment to the power grid and supply any excess power back to the utility in exchange for a credit on their bill.
In 2010, PSHH purchased a 12-acre parcel with good southern exposure and developed the property over the next 8 years to include 17 new homes with solar arrays aiming to reduce electric usage by one-third. All 17 homes were purchased by low- and very low-income households.
During that time period, the efficiency of solar panels steadily increased, while the cost of the panels steadily decreased, which makes solar electric an increasingly viable way to maintain housing affordability throughout the term of the mortgage. Fleming Mason Energy, the local rural electric cooperative, was a key partner by providing the net metering.
“I never thought I could own a home until this opportunity came up,” said James Castle, disabled U.S. Navy veteran and resident of the Ever Green community. “Using solar keeps my electric bills down and that enabled me to afford to buy my own home. I encourage everyone to put solar on their homes. It makes you more independent and less dependent on the government.”
The 17 new homes averaged a Home Energy Rating Score (HERS) of 37, translating to homes that are 67 percent more energy efficient than the standard new home. Testing and determining the HERS for each new home also were provided by Fleming Mason Energy and East Kentucky Power at no charge to PSHH or the new homeowners.