The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) was recently named runner-up for the best low- and moderate-income projects in the "Solar in Your Community Challenge," a $5 million prize competition from the U.S. Department of Energy that aims to expand solar electricity access, a release said.

Over the past two years, RREAL developed Community Solar for Community Action, a community solar program that partnered with energy assistance providers to empower low-income families, nonprofits, and First Nations in Minnesota and Vermont with solar energy savings.

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"Annual Energy Assistance is a crucial protection for families, but a stopgap is not a solution. Rather than simply paying low-income families' energy bills year after year, we can permanently empower our communities with solar energy solutions and ensure that low-income Americans can benefit from solar energy," Jason Edens, director of RREAL, said in a release.

"Our program is benefitting people all the way from the Leech Lake Nation in northern Minnesota to Windham and Windsor counties in rural southeastern Vermont. More importantly, we are forging an empowering national model of low-income energy assistance," Edens said in the release. "The systems we installed will help bring financial stability and peace of mind to 107 low-income households and three non-profits: Leech Lake Energy Assistance Program, American Indian Community Housing Organization, and Southeastern Vermont Community Action. These systems are saving people over 22% on their energy bills."

By partnering with local Community Action Partnerships who run the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program in their communities, RREAL can identify income eligible families using the existing process, the release said. Community Solar for Community Action provides solar to people who would not qualify because of a low or no credit score, renters in multi-family housing, or those not able to put solar on their roof because of shading, weight capacity or high upfront costs.

According to the release, RREAL plans to develop more Community Solar for Community Action Partnerships in the coming years.