Obama announces new support for clean energy

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U.S. President Barack Obama has been the strongest supporter that solar has had in the White House to date. This was most notable through provisions in the 2009 "Stimulus" act, which included enabling US$13.3 billion in federal loan guarantees to fund 16 large solar PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) projects, kick-starting the building of enormous solar plants in the nation.

Today the president has announced further advances on the day of the National Clean Energy Summit in Nevada, organized by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid from Obama’s Democratic Party and Liberal think tank Center for American Progress. These measures are not as dramatic as the stimulus, however they put solar center stage.

Loan guarantees

To top the list, Obama has pledged an additional $1 billion in loan guarantees for "new, innovative projects" under its current solicitation, which spans renewable energy, energy efficiency and fossil projects.

While details are not clear, the White House is emphasizing distributed energy. It is additionally inviting innovative distributed projects to apply to more than $10 billion in existing loan guarantees, which have in the past supported large utility-scale projects.

PACE

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), was just emerging on the national stage as a very promising solution to the problem of financing residential solar and energy efficiency, when it was derailed in 2010 by semi-public mortgage regulators Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Both these entities and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) under which they operate have shown no signs of slowing their resistance to the program in the five years since. However, California has moved ahead with a PACE program, including a fund to pay off FHFA in the event of any defaults.

Today, the White House has moved forward with enabling PACE through a another federal agency, the department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA has provided guidelines to allow home buyers to use FHA financing for properties with PACE loans.

FHA provides financing for low income and credit-constrained homeowners and home buyers, with the White House estimating more than 7.6 million participating households. This represents only 6% of the households in the United States, so while this is a step forward, it will not on its own revive PACE to its former promise.

The White House clearly hopes for a broader impact, stating that "FHA’s evolving PACE guidance is also being informed by ongoing conversations with the Federal Housing Finance Agency." Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) also singled out this action for praise, calling it a "key piece in the puzzle."

"These actions by the Administration clear the way for communities to generate their own power, and stabilize the local grid, by providing a simple financing mechanism for homes and businesses to go solar," declared SEIA CEO Rhone Resch. "Today’s announcement cuts through red tape and provides much-needed clarity to developers ready to build out solar projects in under-served areas."

Solar on military homes

The third major action announced comes not from the White House, but from the companies that house U.S. soldiers. Through a partnership with the White House, four housing providers have pledged to install a total of 233 MW of solar PV on military bases. This will add to 72 MW of solar PV, which has already been installed on homes in these bases.

Unlike the stimulus in 2009, President Obama is taking these actions through his executive authority. This has been an important avenue for his actions on climate and energy issues during the last five years, given a hostile majority by the opposition Republican Party in the U.S. Congress.

This executive authority includes oversight of federal agencies, and in 2013 Obama directed all agencies of the U.S. government to procure 20% of their power from renewable energy by 2020.