ENVIRONMENT

Biden is marking Earth Day by announcing $7 billion in federal solar power grants

Apr 22, 2024, 9:36 AM

FILE: GRID Alternatives employees Tony Chang (L) and Sal Miranda install no-cost solar panels on th...

FILE: GRID Alternatives employees Tony Chang (L) and Sal Miranda install no-cost solar panels on the rooftop of a low-income household on Oct. 19, 2023, in Pomona, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is marking Earth Day by announcing $7 billion in federal grants for residential solar projects serving 900,000-plus households in low- and middle-income communities. He also plans to expand his New Deal-style American Climate Corps green jobs training program.

The grants are being awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency, which unveiled the 60 recipients on Monday. The projects are expected to eventually reduce emissions by the equivalent of 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and save households $350 million annually, according to senior administration officials.

Biden’s latest environmental announcements come as he is working to energize young voters for his reelection campaign. Young people were a key part of a broad but potentially fragile coalition that helped him defeat then-President Donald Trump in 2020. Some have joined protests around the country of the administration’s handling of Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Senior administration officials said young Americans are keenly invested in the Biden climate agenda and want to actually help enact it. The Climate Corps initiative is a way for them to do that, the officials said.

Solar energy is gaining traction as a key renewable energy source that could reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, which emit planet-warming greenhouse gases. Not only is it clean, but solar energy can also boost the reliability of the electric grid.

But solar energy can have high costs for initial installation, making it inaccessible for many Americans — and potentially meaning a mingling of environmental policy with election-year politics.

Forty-nine of the new grants are state-level awards, six serve Native American tribes and five are multi-state awards. They can be used for investments such as rooftop solar and community solar gardens.

Biden is making the announcement at northern Virginia’s Prince William Forest Park, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest of Washington. It was established in 1936 as a summer camp for underprivileged youth from Washington, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps to help create jobs during the Great Depression.

“Broad community-based solar is our brightest hope for protecting people and our climate from the scourge of fossil fuels,” said Jean Su, director of the Energy Justice program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These targeted investments mean low-income families get clean energy that is affordable, resilient and protects our ecosystems. It’s great to see President Biden jumpstart this landmark program.”

Biden, a Democrat, used executive action last year to create the American Climate Corps modeled on Roosevelt’s New Deal. He is announcing Monday that nearly 2,000 corps positions are being offered across 36 states, including jobs offered in partnership with the North American Building Trades Unions.

The president has often used Earth Day as a backdrop to further his administration’s climate initiatives. Last year, he signed an executive order creating the White House Office of Environmental Justice, meant to help ensure that poverty, race and ethnic status do not lead to worse exposure to pollution and environmental harm.

He has tried to draw a contrast with GOP congressional leaders, who have called for less regulation of oil production to lower energy prices. Biden officials counter that GOP policies benefit highly profitable oil companies and could ultimately undermine U.S. efforts to compete with the Chinese in the renewable energy sector.

Biden is using his Virginia visit to discuss how “a climate crisis fully manifest to the American people in communities all across the country, is also an opportunity for us to come together,” said White House National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi.

He said the programs can “unlock economic opportunity to create pathways to middle-class-supporting careers, to save people money and improve their quality of life.”

The awards came from the Solar for All program, part of the $27 billion “green bank” created as part of a sweeping climate law passed in 2022. The bank is intended to reduce climate and air pollution and send money to neighborhoods most in need, especially disadvantaged and low-income communities disproportionately impacted by climate change.

EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe said she was “looking forward to these funds getting out into the community, giving people skills, putting them to work in their local communities, and allowing people to save on their energy bills so that they can put those dollars to other needs.”

Among those receiving grants are state projects to provide solar-equipped roofs for homes, college residences and residential-serving community solar projects in West Virginia, a non-profit operating Mississippi solar lease program and solar workforce training initiatives in South Carolina.

The taxpayer-funded green bank has faced Republican opposition and concerns over accountability for how the money gets used. EPA previously disbursed the other $20 billion of the bank’s funds to nonprofits and community development banks for clean energy projects such as residential heat pumps, additional energy-efficient home improvements and larger-scale projects like electric vehicle charging stations and community cooling centers.

___

St. John reported from Detroit.

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Biden is marking Earth Day by announcing $7 billion in federal solar power grants