Obama Issues ‘Executive Actions’ To Put Solar Panels On Federally Subsidized Housing

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Obama administration is issuing a slew of executive orders to boost the solar panel industry, this time by pushing for more solar panels to be used at federally subsidized housing developments.

The White House announced a goal of getting 300 megawatts installed at federally subsidized housing all while providing technical and financial assistance to subsidized housing operators looking to go green. The administration also says it’s leveraged $520 million in “independent commitments from philanthropic and impact investors, states, and cities” to boost solar energy among the low income community.

“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 White House said in a statement.

The move to push solar panel on federally-subsidized housing comes less than one month after Obama unveiled “executive actions” to “make information about energy and climate programs … accessible and more understandable to the public, including to mission-driven investors.” Obama also ordered the IRS to issue guidance on how groups could invest in green energy.

Obama’s latest orders also call for the creation of a “National Community Solar Partnership” to increase solar power access to low-income families that rent their homes or apartments and may not have enough rooftop space for a solar panel array. So-called “solar gardens” are a new way to finance solar panels across the country, but one that could increase costs and bring dubious benefits.

For example, Denver recently contracted with a solar company to have 16 city-operated buildings powered by solar energy from a community solar project. City officials heralded the deal as helping green up Denver, but there’s one caveat — there’s no guarantee solar power will actually come to your home or building.

What happens is that those who buy electricity from community solar projects simply get a credit on their electric bill to show they invested in solar. Yet, no solar panels are hooked up on site, instead power is generated on a solar farm somewhere else and that power is sent onto the grid.

Those looking to invest in solar will get utility credits, but there’s no guarantee that the solar power you finance will ever be used to meet your electrical needs.

The city and county of Denver contracted to buy solar power for 12 cents per kilowatt hour during the first year of its contract with the company SunShare. The contract is for 20 years and the city has agreed to pay 20.66 cents for electricity for solar power by that time. The city claims it will save $6 million over 20 years, but it’s paying more than what other pay for power from traditional sources.

The average commercial customer in Denver pays 9.16 cents per kilowatt hour and the Colorado statewide average is 9.69 cents per kilowatt hour. So the city will pay more to pretend its buildings are being powered by solar energy, but it will get credits for buying power from SunShare.

Update: A spokeswoman with SunShare told TheDCNF that the credit Denver will receive in it’s first year will be about 33 cents per kilowatt hour due to demand charges charged by the utility. The credit given to the city by the utility Xcel Energy is how Denver  can claim $6 million in savings over 20 years.

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