Obama initiative encourages solar in poor neighborhoods

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Solar energy is the perfect solution to providing low-cost power to the poorest people and to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If only we could find a way to encourage solar adoption where it would make the most difference...

The Obama administration is announcing a new initiative today that will encourage solar energy development in the poorest communities.

Rooftop solar installations are not just for the rich. In fact, Sunrun studies have revealed that the majority of people installing solar panels in California live in solidly middle class zip codes. That evolution began with a simple policy shift that allowed homeowners to lease rooftop solar systems and save on their energy bills without having to make major upfront investments.

Now, the Obama administration aims to make solar energy accessible to low-income Americans as well. How? A few simple policy shifts could make a big difference.

Most low-income Americans don’t own their homes. It’s nearly impossible to sign a long-term contract to make modifications to a home if the person signing the contract doesn’t own the home.

Community solar projects provide a simple and elegant solution. When solar gardens are constructed in central areas and anyone can purchase or lease power from them, it enables even renters to take advantage of the environmental and economic savings solar provides. The Obama administration is expected to announce new regulations that will make community solar projects easier and more affordable to construct.

“We think it’s important for everybody to have access to solar energy,” said Brian Deese, a senior White House adviser in a press announcement.

On top of providing low-cost and environmentally friendly energy, the initiative aims to generate new jobs for solar installers and technicians that will bolster poorer communities.

The administration is also expected to talk about initiatives to work with local housing authorities in cities throughout the country. New funding and lending programs will make it more affordable for agencies to install rooftop solar panels on subsidized housing in order to offset steep electric bills for the low-income families that live there.

The announcements today are in tandem with the President’s climate change strategy. He aims to triple the amount of rooftop solar installed on subsidized housing by 2020.

He wants to see 300 megawatts of solar installed on subsidized housing by 2020, a dramatic increase from the 100 megawatts he set as a goal in 2013. However, with 180 megawatts already committed, 300 megawatts are realistic.