The Lone Star State is harnessing the power of the sun to help reduce energy costs, especially in underserved areas where electricity use can consume a disproportionate share of monthly budgets. For families in the Colonias communities in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexico border, any cost increases in basic needs like electricity, educational supplies and even food create situations where people have to make uncomfortable choices.
Recently, Sempra Foundation, along with trusted nonprofit Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), began a pilot solar program in the Colonias to address energy access and help reduce the burden of choosing one basic need over another.
“The individuals and families we are supporting in these communities lack access to basic infrastructure and are struggling to make ends meet,” said Lisa Alexander, director and board chair of Sempra Foundation. “Helping these families access more affordable electricity with a solar solution has a tremendous ripple effect. The positive impact goes well beyond their utility bills.”
The Colonias are rural, unincorporated communities with concentrated pockets of poverty that are physically and legally isolated from neighboring cities. According to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the typical annual income for a family of four in the Colonias is about $12,000 to $15,000, and the average annual expenditure of electricity is about $1,600, almost 10% of their income. This explains why in Hidalgo County, 38% of the residents live at the poverty level compared to 26% in the rest of Texas.
To equip these families with affordable electricity in what the energy industry considers a “last mile” territory, Sempra Foundation with SELF embarked on this new solar energy pilot program to provide much-needed relief. Not only is solar installation a great option for this area, it’s also one that contributes to a broader Sempra Foundation effort to help improve lives and build stronger, more resilient communities by expanding energy access.
Sempra Foundation partnered with SELF because of that organiztion’s extensive experience designing and implementing solar projects for underserved populations around the world to advance their levels of healthcare, education, water and food security, and economic development.
Working in the Colonias was also made easier by a trusted social services member of the community called Proyecto Azteca, a team that knew the conditions intimately and had already built relationships with residents. With their help, 14 homes opted in to receive a solar photovoltaic (PV) system to significantly reduce electrical energy costs.
Life in the Colonias demonstrates the importance of energy in helping communities thrive. With access to energy, children can study after dark, food and water can be heated and cooled and people can be healthier and more productive. Addressing these basic needs with this solar installation is one way Sempra Foundation can help make a difference through philanthropic investments that produce sustainable and responsible change.