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Obama Administration Launches Inner City Solar Energy Initiative

President Barack Obama at the Nellis Solar Power Plant in Nevada in 2009. (Flickr Creative Commons)

President Barack Obama at the Nellis Solar Power Plant in Nevada in 2009. (Flickr Creative Commons)

The Obama administration on Tuesday unveiled a plan to install solar panels atop buildings in impoverished inner city neighborhoods in a bid to boost local economies, lower electricity bills and combat climate change.

The White House said it plans to triple the capacity of solar and other renewable energy systems in federally subsidized housing by 2020, the New York Times reports. The administration also said it plans to make it easier for homeowners to obtain loans for solar energy improvements, and that it would create a nationwide program to help renters gain access to solar energy.

“The Obama administration is committed to addressing climate change, promoting clean energy, and creating good paying jobs. That is why the administration is announcing a new initiative to increase access to solar energy for all Americans, in particular low- and moderate-income communities, while expanding opportunities to join the solar workforce,” explained a White House statement.

“The executive actions and private sector commitments that we are announcing today will help continue to scale up solar for all Americans, including those who are renters, lack the startup capital to invest in solar, or do not have adequate information on how to transition to solar energy,” the statement added.

“We need to expand opportunities for more families to reap the benefits of using cleaner sources of energy that can also help households save money on their utility bills,” Brian Deese, President Obama’s top energy adviser, told reporters on Monday.

On Tuesday, Deese was in Baltimore where he and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) launched the administration’s new solar initiative behind a rowhome in East Baltimore. Cummings said he has received many calls from constituents who could not pay their utility bills.

“We are in a time when paychecks seem to be shrinking while utility bills are going up,” said Cummings. “We want to be the model for the country.”

One of the administration’s goals is the training of 75,000 solar industry workers over the next five years, a move Baltimore city leaders said could help boost the local economy, which has been devastated in the post-industrial era.

“It’s about sustainability and saving money but it’s also about job training and job creation,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The Obama administration also announced on Tuesday that it has received commitments from private investors and charities to invest some $520 million in neighborhood solar projects across the country.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the US solar industry enjoyed a record year in 2014, growing by 34 percent over 2013 to install nearly 7,000 megawatts (MW) of solar electricity capacity. Residential photovoltaic installation increased by 51 percent.

“[In 2014] the solar industry installed 32 percent of all new electricity generating capacity in the US, second only to natural gas,” SEIA said in a statement on its website. “This growth is expected to continue, with an additional 20,000 MW of solar capacity projected over the next two years.”

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