White House plans rooftop solar panel initiative for inner-city neighborhoods
Technician checking solar panels on roof (Shutterstock)

The White House said it would move to put more solar panels on rooftops in poor, inner-city neighbourhoods to cut electricity bills and fight climate change.

The plan, to be unveiled on Tuesday in Baltimore, follows dozens of new initiatives rolled out by the White House since the start of the year to signal Barack Obama’s commitment to act on climate change – even in the face of Republican opposition.

America is in the midst of a rooftop solar boom – with installation up 139,000% in the last decade , because of falling costs.

But only about 1% of the electricity moving along America’s grid comes from solar, and nearly half of all US households are shut out of solar, because they are renters or their properties are too small to install panels, White House officials told a conference call with reporters.

“We think it’s important for everybody to have access to solar energy,” Brian Deese, a senior White House adviser, told reporters.

In the new solar initiative, the White House said it wanted to make rooftop solar panels more affordable and open up new jobs in inner-city neighbourhoods. Officials said they would work with housing authorities and solar companies in 20 states to improve financing packages.

The new initiative – the second move by Obama to expand solar since April – aimed to install 300MW of solar power in subsidised housing by 2020, officials told the call.

That’s just over half as much energy as generated by the big solar farm in the Mojave desert – one of the first big solar projects backed by Obama, which went into operation earlier this year.

But it represents a tripling of Obama’s initial target to install 100MW of rooftop solar in subsidised housing by 2020 – a goal that has already been reached thanks to falling prices for solar panels.

“The curve is really spiking up because the costs are coming down,” Deese said.

Obama last April announced plans to train up to 75,000 new solar industry workers.

Tuesday’s initiative is the latest in a growing series of actions intended to demonstrate to the international community that Obama remains focused on climate change, ahead of a critical set of negotiations for a global warming deal in Paris at the end of the year.

Those efforts are going to take a hit as a Republican-controlled Congress returns to work after the Fourth of July holiday, with hearings in the House and Senate challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to cut carbon pollution from power plants and the Obama administration’s focus on climate change as a security issue.

The move also suggests a pivot for Obama from large-scale solar farms to rooftop solar.

When Obama entered the White House in 2009, there were no large-scale solar farms. Now there are 17, funded by Department of Energy loan guarantees.

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