Federal effort launched to expand solar power in communities

By Alicia Chang, Associated Press

The Obama administration unveiled a plan Tuesday aimed at helping middle-class and low-income communities put solar panels on their roofs.

In this March 23, 2010, file photo, installers from California Green Design install solar electrical panels on the roof of a home in Glendale, Calif. The Obama administration announced a plan Tuesday, July 19, 2016, to help middle-class and low-income communities put solar panels on their roofs. White House officials said energy upgrades can be made with no upfront costs, but homeowners will gradually pay back the cost through their property tax bills. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Obama administration unveiled a plan Tuesday aimed at helping middle-class and low-income communities put solar panels on their roofs.

Homeowners could choose to harness electricity from the sun, buy energy-efficient water pumps and make other energy-saving upgrades at no cost upfront, eventually paying it back through their property tax bills.

While this type of clean-energy financing has existed for years, officials said backing by the federal Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs should expand access to families who may not afford it otherwise.

The White House estimated the effort would bring solar power to about 250,000 middle-class and low-income homes by 2020.

"Solar panels are no longer for wealthy folks who live where the sun shines every day," President Barack Obama said in a video message accompanying the announcement.

In recent years, technological advances have made it cheaper to install rooftop solar panels, Obama senior adviser Brian Deese said in a telephone briefing with reporters.

California Gov. Jerry Brown praised the effort, saying it would lead to more solar installations and energy-saving retrofits around the country.

"It is another important government effort to accelerate the movement to renewable energy and efficient housing so we're not wasting water, we're not wasting gas and electricity, and we're using the sun as much as we can," Brown said.

Under the plan, if a solar-powered home is sold through a regular sale or foreclosure, the responsibility of paying for the upgrade is passed on to the next owner.

Not every lender is on board.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage giants that guarantee most mortgages, said that while it supports increasing solar access, it "continues to have serious concerns" with how the clean-energy program is structured.

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