Solar energy is an expanding business that has the opportunity to benefit the world. Although solar energy isn’t a brand new concept, there is still a lot to figure out before it’s perfectly executed and adopted by more people.

Many experts have been working on educating the public about solar energy, including the UMass Clean Energy Extension. Completely free to the public, the UMass Clean Energy Extension recently hosted four online sessions in a series titled the “Western Massachusetts Solar Forum.” Each featured a wide variety of speakers that either work in the solar energy industry or are interested and educated on the topic.

The third session of the series had over 100 participants as part of the webinar. The focus of this session was “Solar Equity and Community Benefits.” One of the first speakers was Lynn Benander from Co-op Power. She opened the discussion by talking about owning vs. leasing your solar system.

Benander, in favor of owning your own system, stated, “If we own the solar projects in our communities, then we have the jobs, the savings and the wealth that come along with it,” instead of leasing and having the money leave the community.

Christine Crago from UMass shared a statistic: about 64% of households that have solar PV systems (from 2014 – 2018) leased their solar panels, even though they would yield three times the financial return by owning the solar panels. She wondered why this is the case.

Speaking from the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts was Priya Gandbhir. Gandbhir explained how much solar equipment must be installed in Massachusetts in order to reach the state’s emission limits. According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, about 27 to 34 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy are needed by 2050 to meet these emission limits. Based on the amount of solar the Bay State currently has – about 3 GW installed – “installation of solar energy will have to occur at a rate almost four times the current pace” to meet the state’s emissions limit.

The main focus of this session was the inequality that becomes apparent when it comes to access to solar installation. Almost all of the speakers brought up the fact that the most vulnerable communities when it comes to solar installation include communities of color and low-income individuals – including those in rural areas. The ironic part is, these are the communities that could benefit the most from solar energy but “are also the least likely to have a voice,” said Nathan Phelps, Vote Solar.

By the end of the session, it was determined there are many barriers New England must get through before solar energy can be equitable. These barriers include, but are not limited to, money, education and awareness, time, mind-share and finding the common good.

For anyone interested, all four of the Western Mass. Solar Forum sessions are available for free at

by Kelsi Devolve