White House aides announce new initiatives to expand access to solar energy and solar panels are installed on the roof of a home in East Baltimore. (Tom Brenner, Baltimore Sun video)
The Obama administration announced a series of measures in Baltimore on Tuesday intended to help low-income communities across the nation tap into solar power, and it significantly expanded its commitment to using renewable energy in federally subsidized housing.
Gathered behind a rowhome in East Baltimore, local and federal officials said they hope to encourage projects that allow multiple homes to draw off a single set of solar panels. And the White House tripled its goal of renewable energy produced in federal housing to 300 megawatts by 2020.
"We are in a time when paychecks seem to be shrinking while utility bills are going up," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat. "We want to be the model for the country."
The effort was the latest by President Barack Obama to confront climate change without rewriting the nation's energy policy, which would require approval from the Republican-controlled Congress. The administration said it had commitments from philanthropic and private investors to put $520 million into community solar projects across the country.
The use of solar power in the United States is growing, but the energy source still accounts for only about 1 percent of the electricity produced here. Administration officials said a lack of financing and a shortage of roof space mean solar is not an option for about half of the nation's homes and businesses.
Local officials said the push to install more solar panels throughout the city could be a boon for the job market. The administration has set a goal of training 75,000 workers to enter the solar industry over the next five years.
"It's about sustainability and saving money but it's also about job training and job creation," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.
The U.S. Department of Energy, joining with other federal departments, is launching a new effort to focus on developing the community solar projects. The Federal Housing Administration, meanwhile, will make it easier to borrow up to $25,000 for solar and improvements in energy efficiency.
"We know that in cities like Baltimore, you guys have taken a lot of hits," said Brian Deese, the White House energy and climate adviser.