In order to offset carbon emissions in excess of state quotas, big polluters are paying to install rooftop solar panels on the houses of the poor. It's not charity, but public policy known as 'cap and trade', a real-world solution to dealing with big polluters who can't cut their emissions to acceptable limits.
Companies must pay, per ton, for their carbon pollution. "Run by Oakland nonprofit Grid Alternatives, the effort will install home solar arrays in disadvantaged neighborhoods, using $14.7 million raised through California’s cap-and-trade system for reining in greenhouse gas emissions" reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
California has the most favorable climate- political and environment - for solar in the sountry thanks to incentive programs, innovative companies, and progressive consumers. But most investment in solar to date has been by the upper-middle classes and the wealthy, who can afford its steep upfront costs and marginal payback scenarios. Rich people can afford to go a bit green while average Americans find the numbers tough to justify.
Grid Alternatives, which has been around for over ten years, has long sought to change that imbalance. Now the cap and trade system is providing the funds to help reach that goal. The nonprofit plans on installing solar panels on 1,600 homes by the end of next year, all for free, so long as you live in a neighborhood the state has designated as disadvantaged.
According to the Chronicle "Most homeowners are asked to make small contributions for the installation, such as agreeing to feed the crew installing the array, or agreeing to help with the installation themselves. Otherwise, it’s free."
The systems have a benefit beyond the environment: they are estimated to save households between $400-1,000 dollars a year in electricity costs, which makes a big difference to families on a tight budget.
While cap and trade is notoriously inefficient - it leads to far more pollution than if the government just set firm pollution targets and has no corresponding economic benefit for this added pollution - the social good angle of California's implementation reduces this somewhat.
Real people, not just big companies, benefit from the trading in the form of free electricity every year. And its hard to argue against a program that help both the environment and the poor.