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Solar panel array at the George Washington Carver Center in Belstville, Md. on Monday, Apr. 13, 2015. (Photo: USDA/Tom Witham/flickr/cc)

In 'Win-Win for People and Climate,' Obama Announces Solar-Boosting Initiative

'Expanding clean energy access for low- and moderate-income families is the fair thing to do and it makes smart economic sense.'

Andrea Germanos

The Obama administration on Tuesday announced a series of measures aimed at boosting access to solar energy—a move one environmental group hailed as "a win-win for people and for our climate."

It's called the Clean Energy Savings for All Americans Initiative, and, according to Rachel Cleetus, lead economist and climate policy manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists, it "sets some exciting goals"—like bringing 1 gigawatt (GW) of solar to low- and moderate- income families by 2020—and marks "a crucial step forward in helping to ensure that the benefits of the clean energy transition accrue to all."

Among the initiative's noteworthy components, writes Philip Henderson, financial policy expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, are that

  • Thousands of homeowners who purchase or refinance their houses with mortgages supported by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs will be able to use a new kind of home improvement loan—"PACE" financing—which is designed to provide the funds needed to make efficiency repairs, improvements, or add solar panels. [...]
  • Dozens of communities will receive assistance to implement Community Solar initiatives—an important way for families—including renters—to participate in a solar electricity facility without investing in panels installed on their own property.​​​​​​​​​​ [...]
  • States will have new flexibility to use funds from LIHEAP (the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) to help low-income customers repair their homes and apartments to prevent high utility bills, instead of using the funds to simply pay a portion of the families' utility bills.

Among the "big takeaways," according to Cleetus, are that "[r]amping up energy efficiency and solar power can help households save money, even as we cut carbon emissions and reap public health benefits. Expanding clean energy access for low- and moderate-income families is the fair thing to do and it makes smart economic sense."

"What's more," she continued, "done right, the clean energy transition can bring jobs and other economic opportunities to historically disadvantaged communities."

Applauding the initiative, Jill Tauber, managing attorney for clean energy at Earthjustice, said, "Removing barriers to installing solar panels, increasing access to community solar and other policies that reduce energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions is a win-win for people and for our climate." 

President Obama, however, is still under pressure from environmental and community groups who say his climate legacy will only be secured by ending all fossil fuel leases on federal lands.

Underscoring the need for urgent climate action, new data released this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association showed that June 2016 was 1.62° F above the 20th century average, and was the 14th consecutive month to break records. Data from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies this week also showed that January to June 2016 was the planet's warmest half-year on record.

Meanwhile, a potentially deadly so-called "heat dome" is set to grip most of the nation later this week.

Justin Worland writes at TIME, "The coming warm spell is just a taste of future summers when heat waves will be stronger and more frequent."

Climate change "is going to make heat waves more common and stronger," Worland quotes Flavio Lehner, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, as saying. "It's going to be slow in terms of the human lifespan, but you are going to have heat waves ratcheting up more rapidly."

And that speaks to one of the benefits of the new initiative, Cleetus added—"investing in clean energy can also be a way to build resilience to climate impacts."

"People in homes that are better built and better weatherized, that use less energy, and draw power from distributed energy resources like rooftop or community solar are also better protected from the impacts of extreme weather," she wrote.

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