Obama makes new push on solar power

Obama makes new push on solar power
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The Obama administration is making a new large-scale effort to encourage deployment and use of rooftop solar power on homes.

Numerous agencies announced new or strengthened coordinated efforts Tuesday aimed at increasing solar installations in houses owned by low- and moderate-income Americans, including a new goal for solar installations and a policy change to increase access to a key financing mechanism for solar power and energy efficiency.

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“This is an approach that cuts across the government to try to take advantage of the fact that the cost of renewable technologies has come down dramatically during President Obama’s tenure, and we want to advantage of that a try to encourage more homeowners to actually benefit directly from that dynamic,” Brian Deese, a top adviser to Obama, told reporters.

The administration is dubbing the effort the “Clean Energy for All Americans Initiative.”

The initiative marks another major push for solar power, which the administration has sought to highlight as a significant bright spot not only in the fight against climate change but also in economic and job development.

Generating capacity in the solar industry has skyrocketed under Obama, growing more than threefold from 2008 to 2015. Meanwhile, costs have fallen dramatically and job growth greatly outpaces that in the rest of the economy.

Still, solar power is a small sliver of the country’s total electricity generation, representing only 0.6 percent last year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The most significant piece of Tuesday’s announcement is a policy change to expand access to the Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which allows homeowners to install renewable and energy efficiency projects at no upfront cost, paying the costs over time through taxes.

The Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs will now allow some people using those agencies’ financing mechanisms to buy houses with existing tax debts under PACE. The administration expects that will make it easier both to sell and buy homes with those improvements.

“That’ll unlock a significant sum of money, and help tens of thousands of homeowners actually be part of putting renewable energy in some form in their homes,” California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), a strong supporter of the program, told reporters about the announcement.

“At the local level, there will be more lending money available, and therefore, there will be more solar installations, more energy retrofits in buildings.”

The administration is setting a new goal for low-income solar installations. It wants 1 gigawatt of solar capacity on low- and moderate-income homes by 2020, up from the 100 megawatt goal it previously set for low-income housing that receives federal support.

The Department of Energy is also putting new effort into its project to train solar workers by launching a new networking program. That department’s also unveiling a competitive grant program for communities to develop innovating ways to expand solar access.