Solar power could free tenants from crippling energy bills, writes Annemarie van Gaal.
An increasing number of people and companies are taking care of their own energy needs. That is great news. A few solar panels on the roof will not only keep things humming along for no money at all, they will also earn you some cash when you feed your surplus energy back into the grid. Of course you will have to have your own roof to install the solar panels, and a couple of thousand euros to invest.
In the Netherlands, housing corporations are renting out 2.4 homes. These households will never be able to generate their own energy: the roof belongs to the housing corporations and people who live in social housing generally don’t have a couple of thousand euros lying around to invest in solar panels. Many households pay almost as much for energy as for rent.
Head above water
Let’s look at it from the corporations’ side. Their income is based on rent and some interest. Not really a very expansive business model, I’d say. Higher costs are being translated into higher rents for people who are having trouble keeping their heads above water as it is. Every increase in rent is a step towards financial ruin and eviction. Every year some 7,000 families are being evicted for non-payment of rent. That means 20,000 adults and children without a home.
Wouldn’t it be a good idea for housing corporations to generate their own energy by putting up solar panels on the roof of their complexes and then delivering it to their tenants free of charge?
But who pays for the initial investment? I thought of that. Subsidies on rent now account for €2.7bn a year. Why not abolish them? It could be done by January 1, 2015. From that date the corporations start paying the energy costs of their tenants. The government gives two years’ worth of subsidies to the corporations who can use the money to cover the roofs of all their complexes with solar panels, creating quite a few jobs at the same time.
No more energy costs for families in social housing and no more subsidies. The corporations can earn money on surplus energy and won’t have to up the rents. It’s a nice, sustainable solution to suit everyone and it has the added benefit that the cost of subsidies is eliminated after two years.
Annemarie van Gaal is head of AM Media and a writer and columnist.
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