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White House Unveils Solar-For-All Initiative

Mr Renewables/Wikipedia
Mr Renewables/Wikipedia

The Obama Administration announced a new multi-agency initiative this week, aimed at what it called the “catalytic goal” of seeing a gigawatt of solar generation installed to benefit low- and moderate-income families and communities by 2020.

The Clean Energy Savings for All Initiative “will work to ensure that every household has options to choose to go solar,” the White House said in a release. The announcement raised by an order of magnitude a target that President Barack Obama had previously set in his Climate Action Plan.

The initiative includes measures “promoting innovative financing mechanisms, bolstering technical assistance for states and communities, driving innovation, [and] scaling up work force training” to help low- and mid-income people gain access to clean energy jobs. It extends across the U.S. departments of energy, housing and urban development, agriculture, health and human services, veteran’s affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Among other motivators, the initiative will give up to $100,000 in cash and technical assistance to community teams seeking to “develop innovative models to increase solar deployment and cut communities’ energy bills, in particular in low-income communities.”

Not every agency in the sprawling U.S. federal government was apparently fully onside with the new initiative, however. E&E News [subscription] reports that the U.S. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae)—which together underwrite billions of dollars in American home mortgages—worried that wider use of Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing could threaten their “first-lien” status in the event of defaults.

But the U.S. Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, both of which provide mortgage lending, will allow PACE loans on homes they finance, Bloomberg reports. The programs solve the issue of repayment priority, so that “the portion of the PACE loan that’s in arrears will get paid before the FHA or VA mortgage in a foreclosure.”

Bloomberg says that more than 30 U.S. states have passed PACE legislation enabling PACE financing since 2008, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimates that the mechanism has triggered more than US$2 billion in investments in about 97,000 homes.

Meanwhile, Vivint Solar and San Diego-based Renovate America, the country’s largest private provider of PACE financing, announced a partnership in which the latter will finance installation of the former’s solar systems in applications that will be repaid through tax assessments. Renovate America says it has financed “more than $1.5 billion of improvements such as solar, energy-saving roofing, windows and doors, more efficient HVAC systems, and building insulation” since 2011.

The White House release boasted that the United States has accomplished a 30-fold increase in solar-electric generation during Obama’s eight years in office, while “solar jobs are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy.”