On the heels of the administration’s release of the Third National Climate Assessment report, President Barack Obama today announced an array of executive actions and public and private sector commitments to increase solar installations and energy efficiency improvements, strengthen energy efficiency standards, and bolster the solar industry workforce. The actions and pledges that Obama laid out will deploy enough solar energy to power nearly 130,000 homes, cut carbon emissions by the equivalent of taking 80 million cars off the road and save businesses $26 billion on their energy bills, the White House said in a statement.
“We don’t look backwards. We look forward. We don’t fear the future,” Obama said on why it’s time to conserve energy, promote renewables and take action on climate change.
Speaking at a Walmart store in Mountain View, Calif., Obama said that more than 300 public agencies, multifamily and affordable housing organizations, rural electric cooperatives, and businesses like Home Depot, Ikea, Google, Wal-mart and Goldman Sachs have signed on to install solar panels – representing a total of 850 megawatts of solar energy. Twenty-five public agencies, multifamily housing organizations, businesses and manufacturers are also joining the president’s Better Building Challenge, pledging to increase the energy efficiency of more than 1 billion square feet of their buildings – an area the size of 17,000 football fields — by at least 20 percent by 2020.
To help build the growing green economy, the Department of Energy (DOE) will launch community college programs across the U.S. to train 50,000 workers to enter the solar industry by 2020, Obama said, building on the DOE’s Solar Instructor Training Network of almost 400 community colleges in 49 states that have provided solar workforce training for over 22,000 students since 2010.
Recognizing that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective form of energy, the president also announced plans to invest $2 billion in energy efficiency upgrades to federal buildings over the next three years. Combined with a similar $2 billion commitment to federal energy efficiency improvements in 2011, the administration is now on track to offer $4 billion in energy efficiency performance contracts through 2016, which will create, according to independent studies, tens of thousands of new construction jobs, the White House said in a statement. The additional $2 billion commitment will not come out of taxpayers’ pockets, according to the White House: The administration plans to pay for the upfront cost of projects with the savings realized from previous energy efficiency upgrades.
Also today, the DOE publicized its two new energy efficiency standards for commercial walk-in cooler and freezers, like the ones used to display milk and other refrigerated items in grocery stores, and for electric motors used to power devices such as conveyor belts and escalators. In addition to saving businesses money, these new regulations will cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 158 million metric tons through 2030 – the equivalent of the annual electricity use of more than 21 million U.S. homes. These two new standards, along with the five other standards issued under the Obama administration, will help the country achieve 70 percent of Obama’s goal to reduce carbon emissions by at least 3 billion metric tons by 2030, according to a White House statement.
The DOE also preliminarily affirmed today that the building industry’s latest commercial building energy code will provide an additional 8.5 percent energy savings over the previous standards, as well as an additional 30 percent savings compared to current statewide energy codes, the White House said in a statement. The updated building code will slash carbon emissions by 230 million metric tons by 2030.
The Obama administration also revealed several innovative financing solutions for energy efficiency upgrades and solar projects, since paying for these improvements is the biggest hurdle for residents and businesses to overcome. Fannie Mae, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Housing Administration announced that they will expand Green Preservation Plus, their mortgage loan that provides additional loan proceeds to owners of affordable housing properties to make energy- and water-saving improvements equal to at least 5 percent of their mortgage loan. The General Services Administration also reported that it is looking to purchase solar arrays in Northern California and the Washington, D.C. area with Federal Aggregated Solar Procurements, modeled after the Defense Department’s successful coordinated purchases of renewables. In addition, the White House said that the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service will soon clarify how investment rules relate to renewable energy installations, which should help promote investment in the clean energy sector.
“Today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades,” Obama said.
While the country may have a long way to go before reaching energy independence and carbon neutrality, it’s encouraging to see so many actors in the public and private sectors taking significant, concrete steps towards cutting carbon emissions.
Image credit: Official White House photo by Pete Souza
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru