Clean Energy for Low Income Communities: Stakeholder Engagement

Low-income energy program development is more successful when it incorporates the ideas and resources of people with a vested interest and capacity to help design better programs. CELICA partners found that engaging stakeholders from diverse communities in program planning is critical to identifying barriers that different low-income communities face, and potential program design solutions. Partnering with diverse stakeholders on the implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs helps ensure low-income communities receive the benefits of such programs. Stakeholder engagement issues explored within CELICA focused on identifying key stakeholders, planning programs with their input, and partnering on program implementation and evaluation.

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Identifying Low-income Energy Program Stakeholders

In the planning stage, CELICA partners engaged a diverse set of low-income stakeholders to help ensure program design was based upon the most accurate information about existing low-income energy programs and incorporated insights about the needs and wants of diverse low-income communities. They identified who can be influence whether or not a program can be successfully implemented through policy or funding actions. For example, engaging the state housing agency that administers state housing programs and approves tax credit financing for affordable housing retrofit projects is critical when targeting multifamily affordable housing energy retrofits.

In the program implementation stage, CELICA partners found that local stakeholder networks can help raise awareness and deliver services to a diverse set of communities. Even more fundamentally, coordinating and strategizing with low-income community leaders can promote greater public trust and visibility of a program in low-income communities.

CELICA-based resources to help identify potential stakeholders are provided below.

The CELICA Overview of Low Income Energy Program Stakeholders can be used to identify potential stakeholders to engage in a low-income energy program. The overview document provides a definition of each stakeholder group along with information about their potential interest and capacity to contribute to a low-income energy program.

The CELICA Stakeholder Analysis Template can be used to identify potential stakeholders within the above stakeholder categories.

Also see the Low-income Energy Library: Federal Resources and Tools to take stock of available federal resources and identify potential funding partners.

Planning with Low-income Energy Program Stakeholders

After identifying them, CELICA partners worked with their key stakeholders to help answer questions like those shown in the CELICA Community Assessment and Barriers Analysis. Engaging stakeholders in such an analysis can provide valuable insights related to program design. They can also help to identify additional resources to utilize.  

One key lesson from CELICA partners is that authentic engagement of diverse low-income communities is critical to understanding important relationships, history, challenges, and needs; it leads to more effective engagement strategies. This is particularly important in communities where initiatives have been implemented previously without community input. Low-income program administrators can build trust in the communities they are looking to serve by demonstrating genuine interest and engagement of communities early in the program planning and implementation process.

More detail on how to involve stakeholders in a low-income community and barriers assessment, goal setting, and program design is found below.

Assessing Community Assets and Barriers with Stakeholders

Many CELICA partners developed a stakeholder committee to provide input on existing and planned policies and programs, market characteristics, financial resources, and barriers to low-income participation. Based on CELICA partner experience, the following questions can help guide stakeholder conversations related to a community assessment and barriers analysis.

Critical resources to leverage with stakeholders include:

  1. Existing energy programs: Which existing energy programs in the community can be leveraged in a low-income energy program? This includes the existing energy assistance and weatherization assistance networks that have extensive experience with low-income energy needs and gaps, utility programs that often have significant resources and close connections with many low-income households as customers, and nonprofit and philanthropic energy programs that may offer energy education and promote novel energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions.
  2. Non-energy related resources: What non-energy-related resources can be utilized for a low-income energy program? Stakeholders can help identify other useful programs to take advantage of, such as housing and community development grants and loan programs, economic and workforce development resources, and public health and environmental programs.
  3. Other community resources: What other assets does the community have to build upon? For example, is there land (e.g., brownfields), buildings, or other community-based sites (e.g., churches) that could be utilized for community solar projects? Are there other aspects to the community and its interests that can be utilized for an energy program?


Structural barriers to assess with stakeholders include:

  1. Demographics and geographies:  For example, does the age or primary spoken language of residents, or the rural or remote location of a community, create access and service delivery challenges?
  2. Housing types and conditions:  Are there housing characteristics or homeownership rates that would alter program design? In particular, if multifamily affordable housing is present, what characteristics, varying arrangements and financial and budget limitations (e.g., split incentives) might affect program delivery and success?
  3. Financial access:  Do low-income households in the community have access to credit and the ability to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy measures installed in their home?


Program access barriers to assess with stakeholders include:

  1. Difficulty identifying community needs
  2. Varying program eligibility criteria
  3. Physical and geographic constraints
  4. Lack of cross-program coordination and thus difficulty leveraging potential synergies
  5. Regulatory challenges
  6. Program funding limitations
  7. Data challenges
  8. Difficulty evaluating non-energy benefits and full accounting of program cost effectiveness

These barriers should be considered for incorporation into a Community Assessment and Barriers Analysis and any reports that are created.

Setting Low-income Program Goals with Stakeholders

When goals are still being established, it is important to bring together diverse stakeholder groups that can identify the biggest opportunities for impact and support ambitious goals. One example of how this was done is the Illinois Energy Efficiency Stakeholder Advisory Group, which informed the development of the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016. Illinois's efforts and outcomes are described in more detail in the CELICA Promising Practice: Bring Together a Diverse Coalition of Stakeholders to Advance Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Solutions for All.

Goals should be clearly stated up front when they are determined by state priorities or leadership initiatives. Work with stakeholders to identify feasible targets and specific objectives that will build cross-sector support for a low-income energy program and help to achieve outcomes shared across stakeholders. Look for opportunities to better align and coordinate programs as was done by the Massachusetts Affordable Access to Clean and Efficient Energy Initiative working group as described in more detail in the CELICA Promising Practice: Engage a Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Committee to Get Input on Program Barriers and Improve Low Income Program Design. While California’s SB 350 Barriers Study included policy and program recommendations based on an extensive stakeholder outreach effort, smaller scale efforts can be done effectively with the commitment of a small group and some of the tools included in this toolkit.

Designing Low-income Programs with Stakeholders
Based on CELICA partner experience, stakeholder engagement in the design of a low-income program begins with having a well-rounded stakeholder advisory group. The working group can be time-bounded and tied to the planning phase of a project, such as when the State of Massachusetts organized a short-term working group that advised its Affordable Access to Clean and Efficient Energy Initiative, as described in the CELICA Promising Practice: Engage a Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Committee to Get Input on Program Barriers and Improve Low Income Program Design. Or, it can be an ongoing effort, such as the Illinois Energy Efficiency Stakeholder Advisory Group as described in the CELICA Promising Practice: Bring Together a Diverse Coalition of Stakeholders to Advance Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Solutions for All. The Illinois group has met for several years and advised the development of the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act and the launching of the Illinois Solar for All Program, and continues to meet on future potential activities. It can be beneficial for ongoing planning and program refinement to have a standing steering or advisory committee. Tapping an existing low-income energy advisory group, when one exists, is a preferred approach.

Partnering with Low-income Program Stakeholders on Implementation

In CELICA, partnerships between multiple organizations were seen as key to implementing a low-income energy program, and customized around particular needs, gaps, and targeted sectors identified in the planning phase. A low-income energy program is more likely to be successful when it builds upon an existing network of organizations with deep knowledge and established relationships with low-income households. Many times these organizations can leverage other resources targeted to low-income households and offer additional energy (e.g. bill assistance) and non-energy services (transportation, housing assistance, home repair, etc.).

Examples from how CELICA partners in two states advanced their state and local low-income energy program goals can be found below.

CELICA Case Study: Colorado's Approach to Low-income Community Solar Programs that Leverage Weatherization Networks
This case study describes how community solar programs are partnering with the network of energy assistance and weatherization agencies in the state to manage low-income community solar subscribers and maximize energy savings.

CELICA Case Study: Connecticut's Efforts to Scale Up Integrated Energy Efficiency and Renewables for Low-Income Homes
This case study describes how energy offices and green banks are partnering with utilities, housing providers, and private developers to address the energy affordability gap with energy efficiency and solar energy solutions.

Evaluating and Measuring Impact with Low-income Program Stakeholders

CELICA partners at the stage of measuring program outcomes and impact focused on engaging the organizations and people most impacted by the program’s outcomes. This engagement can help determine the best ways to measure the success of existing programs and inform development of future initiatives. Stakeholders can help determine what metrics to use to measure outcomes and how multiple metrics can be included within the overall assessment of the program.

Strategies on including stakeholders in the evaluation and measurement of low-income energy programs is found below.

Identifying Key Indicators and Metrics with Stakeholder Input

CELICA partners found that stakeholders can help identify valuable metrics that are practical to track and compare across multiple programs. For example, the State of California engaged a stakeholder advisory group to develop its Energy Equity Indicators Framework.

Reporting Progress to Stakeholders

CELICA partners utilize both quantitative and qualitative measures to evaluate progress. While measurable outcomes such as homes served with energy efficiency is important, stakeholder stories are also powerful ways to demonstrate program success and can be the compelling basis for additional support. In addition, keeping the process transparent is critical to a successful stakeholder engagement process since low-income stakeholders often have historically felt disenfranchised in community planning processes that impact them.