Many low-income people struggle to afford their utility bills.

“We have a really high percentage of our participants who report that they went without food or medicine just to pay their energy bills and avoid being disconnected. So these are some of the challenging decisions that many households face,” says Kim Shields of Energy Outreach Colorado.

The nonprofit provides emergency financial assistance to Coloradans who are behind on their energy bills.

And to reduce people’s need for financial help, the group also provides free energy efficiency upgrades and helps get families connected to solar energy.

Using solar can be cheaper over time than relying on fossil fuels. But the upfront cost of installing solar panels can be prohibitive, and it’s not an option for renters.

So Energy Outreach Colorado enrolls income-qualified households in a community solar program. Subscribers get a credit on their utility bill for a portion of the electricity produced by a community solar garden.

The group estimates that the program reduces peoples’ electricity bills by about 18%.

“So it allows households to participate in this renewable energy transition without any equipment on their home … as well as see actual savings on their bill and reduced cost,” Shields says.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media