White House Announces More Than $520M In Private Funding to Advance Solar Power

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By Rebecca Kern

July 7 — The White House announced more than $520 million in funding from philanthropies, investors, states and cities to advance community solar power and increase solar energy use among low- and moderate-income households.

The administration also announced a goal of installing 300 megawatts of renewable energy on federally subsidized housing, including solar and other types of renewable energy sources, by 2020.

The Obama Administration's Climate Action Plan in 2013 set an initial goal of installing 100 MW of solar and other renewables on subsidized housing by 2020. With commitments to install more than 185 MW, however, the original goal has been surpassed, and so the larger goal has been set, the White House said July 7.

Additionally, the Energy Department, along with other federal agencies, is spearheading the National Community Solar Partnership among state and local governments; solar equipment manufacturers, including First Solar Inc.; and associations, including the Solar Energy Industries Association and the Solar Electric Power Association. The goal of the partnership is to make solar power more accessible for the almost 50 percent of businesses and households that are renters or that lack the roof space to install solar systems.

“Community solar is a critical tool for bridging the gap between those who can and can't afford the upfront costs of installing rooftop solar, as well as those who, for a wide variety of reasons, may not be able to install solar where they live,” Julia Hamm, president and chief executive officer of the Solar Electric Power Association, told Bloomberg BNA in a July 7 statement.

“Equally important, community solar provides a strategic entry point for utilities seeking new ways to meet their customers’ demand for clean energy while also fostering cooperation and collaboration between utilities, nonprofits and the solar industry,” Hamm said.

Home Loans, Job Training

Among other executive actions as part of the initiative, the Federal Housing Administration will allow homeowners to borrow up to $25,000 for solar and energy efficiency upgrades.

Also, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will release a renewable energy toolkit in August to make it easier to use Section 108 community development block grants for solar systems.

Furthermore, housing authorities, rural electric co-ops, power companies and organizations in more than 20 states are committing to more than 260 solar energy projects, including projects to help low- and moderate- income communities lower their energy bills and build more community solar power.

The initiative builds upon the administration's April announcement to train 75,000 people for jobs in the solar power industry by 2020. Solar power jobs are added 10 times faster than the rest of the economy, largely because the cost of solar technology has gone down, the administration said.

In separate work, the U.S. and Brazil recently committed to a goal of obtaining 20 percent of each nation's electricity from non-hydropower renewable sources by 2030.

Seizing Solar Opportunities

GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit that organizes job trainees to implement solar power for low-income families, is playing several roles in the initiatives, including training 40 AmeriCorps workers on solar energy.

“This is helping set the agenda for the federal agencies and the private sector partners who as part of the announcement, said, ‘Yes, we recognize that there's a huge opportunity here for jobs, a huge need and a huge opportunity for helping families lower energy bills,' ” Stan Greschner, vice president for government relations and market development at GRID Alternatives, told Bloomberg BNA in an interview.

“This just helps to amplify all of the efforts we have been doing at the state level.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rkern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The White House fact sheet is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/07/07/fact-sheet-administration-announces-new-initiative-increase-solar-access.