Installing Solar Panels Is About to Get Easier for Lower- and Middle-Income Americans

Tuesday’s announcment is the latest in President Obama’s campagin for efficient energy. Above, Obama speaks at a solar plant in March.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Home solar panels tend to carry a whiff of luxury or granola, even as entrepreneurs and nonprofits prove that they can be affordable at every strata. The White House is about to boost these efforts to bring solar energy—and the smaller energy bills it can bring—to more lower- and middle-income Americans. On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and Brian Deese, senior adviser for climate issues to the president, traveled to Baltimore to announce new efforts to place more solar panels in subsidized housing.

The New York Times reports that the administration “intends to triple the capacity of solar and other renewable energy systems it installs in federally subsidized housing by 2020, make it easier for homeowners to borrow money for solar improvements and start a nationwide program to help renters gain access to solar energy.” The White House also secured pledges of more than $520 million to fund other community solar farms and energy-efficient measures. Even though solar panel installation is exponentially growing, solar power currently accounts for just 1 percent of the United States’ electricity. 

The White House plan won’t make a massive dent in that imbalance, but it could lighten some lower-income residents’ utility bills. Cummings pointed to his constituents’ concerns about electricity costs: “The difference in a monthly bill of $10 or $15 means a lot to the people who live on my block.” 

Until relatively recently, solar panels were considered an impossible expense for most families. As Slate’s Daniel Gross explains, while solar panels end up being cost-effective, they are slow to pay off and are an investment not too many can make. But in recent years as prices have dropped, more middle-income families are seeing panels as an affordable option.

Tuesday’s announcement marks the latest move by the Obama administration to boost efficient and renewable energy. There have been recent moves by agencies, such as the Defense Department, to green its own facilities, and so far in 2015, his administration has announced 40 environmental measures.