Illinois Solar For All, a state program that helps lower-income households get solar power in their homes, is looking to make the process as easy as possible–and it picked West Garfield Park community area as Chicago’s only pilot site. 

The Bright Neighborhoods pilot seeks to remove some of the hurdles homeowners face when they apply for Solar for All. Instead of choosing one of the several vendors, homeowners work with one pre-selected vendor. They also get more direct support and some types of home repairs for free. If the pilot is successful, the changes may be incorporated into the broader Illinois Solar for All program.

Solar for All is a program run by the Illinois Power Agency and Elevate Energy, a Chicago-based clean energy nonprofit. The program is open to owners of single-family homes and 2- to 4-flat buildings that earn up to 80% of the area median income for the Chicagoland region. The number is recalculated every year, but in 2023, depending on the size of the households, that can be anywhere between $61,800 a year to $102,400 a year. Landlords of larger buildings can also qualify if they have at least two tenants that fit the income requirement.

Bright Neighborhoods pilot is currently limited to three locales. According to Illinois Power Agency spokesperson Michael Amedeo, they wanted to choose the communities that represent different facets of Illinois–a Chicago neighborhood, a city within the Chicago area collar county (Waukegan) and a downstate metropolitan area (the Carbondale-Marion region). 

West Garfield Park was chosen as the Chicago site because it was one of the lower-income neighborhoods that didn’t have many households taking part in Solar for All. They also took the number of single-family homes the community had and suggestions from West Side stakeholders into account. 

The major difference between the regular Solar for All program and the pilot is that, instead of having to pick a company to install the panels, the applicants will work with Selenium Energy, which was picked by the pilot through a bidding process. 

Jennifer Schmidt, Solar for All’s senior program manager, explained that income eligibility is only the first step. Elevate Energy will do a building inspection and verify that it’s suitable for solar panels.

“That system needs to be in place for 15-25 years, so it’s important that the roof is in good condition,” she said. “Roofing issues are a big problem, and also the homes’ electrical systems have to be up to date.”

Amedeo said that while Bright Neighborhoods doesn’t pay for home repairs, it can direct applicants to Solar for All’s Home Repairs and Upgrades initiative, or help them apply for other federal, state or nonprofit programs that can help them along.

If the property is deemed suitable for solar panels, the homeowners will work with Selenium to work out the details. The company will install the panels at no cost to the homeowners, and any regular maintenance costs are capped at 50% of the value of the credits homeowners get from their utilities for using solar power. For example, Schmidt said, if the homeowners get $20 in credit toward their electric bill, they can’t be charged more than $10.

“Single-family homeowners save an average of $1,000 annually, though individual savings will vary,’ Amedeo said.

Solar for All kicked off the pilot in Aug. 1, and property owners have until November to apply. Schmidt said that as of Sept. 14, they only got “a few bites,” which she said was still “encouraging.”

She said that they want to try to reach as many eligible West Garfield Parkers as possible.

“The [Illinois Power Agency] believes that it’s really important, as we’re part of the growing solar market, that we’re reaching customers in vulnerable neighborhoods,” Schmidt said. “We’re really excited to be able to offer those savings, and Bright Neighborhoods is just an opportunity for us to learn more, to make the program better.”

Interested homeowners can apply by visiting the program website at, sending an email to, or calling 888-970-ISFA.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...