Obama puts $15M into solar power

The Obama administration on Thursday announced a $15 million program to help state, local and tribal governments build solar panels and other infrastructure to fight climate change.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and White House counselor John Podesta announced the program at what the White House billed as a "solar summit" designed to push governments and private and nonprofit businesses to up their use of solar power.

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"We need leaders like you in the coming weeks and months to deploy solar power in your communities," Podesta said to a crowd of energy and business leaders at the White House Thursday morning.

"If you do we can curb the dangerous greenhouse gas emissions that are damaging our climate, we can make our communities more resilient against severe weather, we can bring clean affordable energy to American homes and businesses, and we can create jobs and create opportunities for American workers."

The initiative is an attempt to boost the share of renewable sources in the nation’s energy portfolio. Currently, 1 percent of U.S. energy comes from solar installations, according to the Energy Department's stat shop.

But, Podesta said, since 2010, the cost of solar panels has dropped more than 60 percent.

The new Solar Market Pathways program launched by the administration Thursday will help fund the multi-year plans to spur solar market growth, reach 100 megawatts of installed renewable energy on federally subsided housing, and help businesses identify low-cost financing for solar.

The Energy Department will also release in the coming months an updated guide for businesses to receive federal financing for clean energy.

"As part of the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, solar energy is helping families and businesses throughout the U.S. access affordable, clean renewable power,” Moniz said. "The Energy Department is committed to further driving down the cost of solar energy and supporting innovative community-based programs — creating more jobs, reducing carbon pollution and boosting economic growth.”

The administration isn't just asking state and local governments to make changes, however — it plans to challenge federal agencies as well.

The Defense Department, the single largest consumer of energy in the U.S., had committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on military installations by 2025. That includes solar, wind, biomass and geothermal installations.

The push comes on the heels of another green energy announcement the Energy Department made on Wednesday.

The agency plans to provide up to $4 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy efficient projects.

A fact sheet provided by the White House cited solar as a "vital component" of President Obama's "all of the above" energy strategy, but the news will likely receive criticism from Republicans and pro-coal Democrats in Congress.

Opponents argue the administration's all-of-the-above plan is one-sided, favoring cleaner energy sources over coal and other fossil fuels.

Still, Obama has vowed to make 2014 a year of action, calling the new solar push an example of his "phone and pen" initiatives. 

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