The White House is unveiling a sweeping effort to increase access to solar power—particularly in low-income communities.
Administration officials will announce a slate of executive actions and private sector commitments on Tuesday designed to help underserved communities power their homes with solar energy while expanding opportunities for Americans to get jobs in the solar industry. The initiative is the latest action in President Obama's far-reaching energy agenda.
"It is without a doubt a win-win-win," Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings said during a call with reporters on Monday announcing the new initiatives. "Solar energy not only serves our planet by reducing pollution and battling climate change, it also serves people by lowering their energy bills."
The cost to install solar panels has dropped dramatically in recent years due to technological innovation and new financing models. But solar power still makes up just a tiny sliver of total U.S. electricity generation—and significant hurdles to deployment remain.
The White House is seeking to address some of those obstacles, including a lack of expertise in solar panel installation. As part of the initiative, the Housing and Urban Development Department will dole out technical assistance to affordable-housing organizations as a way of encouraging solar installation. The administration also plans to install 300 megawatts of renewable power in federally subsidized housing.
"[This is] aimed at taking directly on those challenges and making it easier and straightforward to deploy low-cost solar energy in every community in the country," senior White House climate adviser Brian Deese said during the call.
Outside the federal sector, a coalition of public housing authorities in states such as Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, Texas, and Florida have agreed to install solar panels in order to help meet the administration's goal. More than 30 nonprofit utilities have signed on to install solar power in the communities they serve, and renewable energy giant SunEdison is partnering with NASCAR in a public relations campaign for adopting solar power.
This is not the first time that the administration has made solar power a priority. In 2009, the Energy Department awarded a $535 million loan guarantee to solar panel manufacturer Solyndra. The company went bankrupt in 2011, and conservative critics of the administration held up the collapse as a prime example of failed environmental policy.