By Amelia Schlusser, Staff Attorney
This week, the Obama Administration set a goal of installing 300 megawatts of solar power and other renewable energy in federally subsidized affordable housing by 2020. This goal, which includes community and shared solar installations, would bring renewable energy to approximately 50,000 homes. The Administration announced that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will provide technical assistance to affordable housing groups that are working to install solar power. To help homeowners secure necessary capital to install solar, the Federal Housing Administration plans to update its second-mortgage program to make it easier for homeowners to borrow up to $25,000 for solar power and other energy efficiency improvements.
According to the White House, in 2014, the U.S. brought as much solar power online every three weeks as it did in all of 2008. However, for many Americans, including renters and residents of multi-unit housing, solar power remains out of reach. The Obama Administration explained that its 300 MW goal and supporting programs aim to increase solar power access for all Americans, including renters and homeowners who lack the capital to invest in solar or efficiency upgrades.
A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that only 22% to 27% of residential rooftops are suitable for solar power, and according to the White House, nearly 50% of households and businesses are renters or lack sufficient roof space to install solar panels. To increase access to solar power for these homes and businesses, the Administration announced the launch of a National Community Solar Partnership. Through this partnership, the U.S. Department of Energy, HUD, Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency will collaborate with the solar industry, NGOs, and state and local leaders to increase access to community solar power. The White House also reported that RE-volv, an independent non-profit organization, announced a goal to finance 200 community solar projects over the next three years through crowdfunding efforts. And Clean Energy Collective announced that it has raised more than $400 million to finance community solar projects throughout the country.
The Obama Administration’s new 300 MW goal and supporting initiatives represent a welcome step forward in increasing access to solar and renewable energy for all Americans. This goal may seem ambitious, but the White House has a proven track record of success in increasing renewable energy access in affordable housing. In 2013, President Obama set a goal of installing 100 MW of solar power in federally subsidized housing, and the Administration has already exceeded this goal by securing commitments to install more than 185 MW of renewable energy.
The President’s accomplishments are due in part to his efforts to build partnerships across the private and public sectors. In response to Obama’s 100 MW goal, affordable housing developers, public housing authorities, financial institutions, nonprofits, and solar developers worked together to increase solar deployment on affordable housing units. These installations benefit residents by offsetting electricity purchases and reducing energy bills. In addition, the installations provide benefits for the greater community by creating jobs and contributing to economic growth. By increasing access to solar power and other forms of renewable energy for all citizens, the United States can create jobs, reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants, and increase the sustainability of the electricity sector. State lawmakers should follow the President’s lead and adopt policies that will expand renewable energy access for all residents.