Center for Sustainable Energy

Low-income Complex Installs Solar to Help Tenants Save Money

“Our mission is to pass the savings along to the tenants. We believe in solar.” – Townspeople

When Townspeople®, a San Diego nonprofit community housing developer, purchased a 1969 era apartment complex on 34th Street in Normal Heights in 2011, they knew it was ready for major renovations.

Among the many upgrades needed were energy efficiency improvements as the 34 units had old lighting fixtures, wall heaters and air conditioners – some of which no longer worked. During the remodel, Townspeople installed ENERGY STAR® appliances, a new HVAC system, an efficient gas boiler, thermal paned windows and other systems to curb energy use and increase comfort, while helping tenants reduce their utility costs.

After the initial energy efficiency improvements, Townspeople wanted to continue to help tenants save on electricity by installing a solar electric system for tenant needs and common area load. They selected Precision Electric Solar as their contractor and successfully completed the installation of a 58-kw photovoltaic (PV) system. Once the system was interconnected to the utility grid, tenant electric bills dropped from an average of $60 per month to $15 per month. 

“There was an opportunity to participate in solar and help the tenants”. – Townspeople


Townspeople primarily financed their solar PV system with a Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant and a more than $136,000 rebate from the California Solar Initiative’s Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program. Townspeople also received funding from the Department of the Treasury’s 1603 Program that allows for solar developers to receive a direct federal grant in lieu of the federal investment tax credit (unavailable to nonprofits).

Tenant Experience

Tenants of the 34th Street property receive the majority of the kilowatt-hour (kWh) production from the solar PV system. They have expressed that the solar installation was an “excellent idea” and “good for the environment,” but most of all appreciate the utility bill savings – most tenants have seen a 50 percent or greater reduction on their monthly electric bills.

“I have not had a bill over $20 since the panels were installed, some months I have a credit from SDG&E.” - Apartment tenant

MASH Update

The Townspeople project was the last solar installation to be completed in San Diego with MASH program incentives. The San Diego Gas & Electric portion of MASH, administered by the Center for Sustainable Energy, met its goals in 2013, having awarded some $10 million for 41 local projects yielding 2.6 megawatts of clean energy generation.