Obama Unveils New Low-Income Solar Goal

Posted by Joseph Bebon on July 19, 2016 No Comments
Categories : Featured, Policy Watch

The Obama administration has announced the Clean Energy Savings for All Initiative, a new cross-government partnership to bring 1 GW of solar to low- and moderate-income families by 2020. According to a White House fact sheet, the new goal is a 10-fold increase and an expansion of the initial target President Barack Obama set in his Climate Action Plan to install 100 MW of renewable energy on federally assisted affordable housing by 2020.

“Solar panels are no longer for wealthy folks who live where the sun shines every day,” says Obama in a video released with the fact sheet. “Today, we’re offering even more families and communities the chance to choose cleaner sources of energy that save you money and protect the planet for all of us.”

Since Obama took office, solar electricity generation has increased 30-fold, and solar jobs are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy. But, according to the administration, there is still more work to do. Through the Clean Energy Savings for All Initiative, the administration says it will work to ensure that every U.S. household has options to choose to go solar and put in place additional measures to promote energy efficiency.

The new initiative will include the Departments of Energy (DOE), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The administration says the Clean Energy Savings for All Initiative will help achieve the new 1 GW goal by promoting innovative financing mechanisms, bolstering technical assistance for states and communities, driving innovation, scaling up workforce training to make sure low- and moderate-income Americans can take advantage of the jobs that come with a transition to clean energy, convening stakeholders, and working with the private and philanthropic sectors.

According to the fact sheet, some key components of the initiative include the following:

– HUD and the VA are releasing new guidance to unlock residential property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing by outlining how properties with PACE assessments can be purchased and refinanced with Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance and by welcoming the use of PACE financing for VA-insured mortgages. In addition, the DOE is releasing a draft of its updated Best Practices Guidelines for Residential PACE Financing for public comment. As the White House explains, PACE is an innovative mechanism that allows homeowners to finance solar and energy-efficiency improvements at no upfront cost and to pay back the cost over time through their property tax bills. If the property is sold, including through foreclosure, the remaining PACE assessment will stay with the more energy-efficient property and the next owner will become responsible for the remaining PACE assessment;

– The DOE is developing a Community Solar Challenge that will award teams in dozens of communities up to $100,000 in cash prizes and technical assistance to develop innovative models to increase solar deployment and cut communities’ energy bills, particularly in low-income communities. The DOE SunShot Initiative is releasing a request for information to gather feedback and information on the structure of the challenge. Shared solar systems of 2 MW or less with 40% low- and moderate-income subscribers, solar systems that benefit low-income families, and solar for community assets (e.g., hospitals, schools, food banks and health clinics) will be eligible;

– The DOE will work to ensure low- and moderate-income Americans can take advantage of the jobs that come with a transition to clean energy by launching the Solar Training Network, which will help create a more inclusive workforce by connecting solar workforce trainers, solar employers and individuals interested in working in the solar industry. To help, The Solar Foundation will administer the program and will create a centralized clearinghouse for solar workforce tools and resources, including the establishment of a Solar Jobs Strategy Commission to foster an exchange of resources and knowledge between training providers and the solar industry. The Solar Foundation will also conduct research and analysis to enhance the understanding of the solar industry’s workforce and training supply, demand, costs, and needs. In a press release, Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation, says the $2.1 million Solar Training Network “will help give job seekers the training opportunities they need while helping employers gain access to qualified candidates.”

– The EPA, the DOE and HUD will work to bring together people, local officials, agencies and banks to share best practices on how to finance and overcome barriers to creating healthier communities through a host of gatherings across the U.S. and online hubs; and

– More than 120 housing authorities, rural electric co-ops, power companies and organizations in more than 36 states across the country are committing to investing $287 million and putting in place more than 280 MW of solar energy projects, including projects to help low- and moderate-income communities save on their energy bills and further the deployment of community solar.

To help achieve the new goal to bring 1 GW of solar energy to low- and moderate-income families by 2020, the Obama administration has also announced more than 120 new commitments from the private, state, local and philanthropic sectors in 36 states. According to the fact sheet, the new commitments represent $287 million in investment and nearly 280 MW of community solar and low- and moderate-income solar deployment. They bring the total amount of commitments secured to more than $800 million in investment and more than 491 MW of solar power.

According to the fact sheet, more than 90 member-owned, not-for-profit rural electric cooperatives in 16 states across the country are committing to install community solar projects by the end of 2017. For example, Pedernales Electric Cooperative has announced plans to deploy up to 15 MW of community solar throughout its service territory, with construction beginning later this year.

In a press release, Tom Kimbis, interim president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), says, “We applaud the administration for its continued commitment to expanding access to clean, affordable, reliable electricity. For Americans looking to reduce their monthly utility bills and gain more independence in their energy generation, today’s announcement is truly empowering. The industry also recognizes the efforts to cut red tape, as one of SEIA’s top goals is breaking down market barriers to solar market penetration.

“A critical component of the initiative is the issuance of clearer guidance on the use of property-assessed clean energy financing,” continues Kimbis. “Strong public policy allowing more veterans and low- and moderate-income American households to go solar mirrors the commitment of the solar industry to these same communities.”

Kimbis concludes, “From rural America to our nation’s inner cities, everyone deserves the chance to participate in the solar revolution. The solar industry is ready to help America achieve – and surpass – the administration’s new goal of bringing 1 GW of solar to low- and moderate-income families by 2020.”

The full White House fact sheet is available here.

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