Bernie Sanders presidential campaign is catching fire. What is his plan for solar?
This week, in our continuing coverage of the candidates vying for the presidency in the 2016 election and their record on solar issues, Solar Tribune look at Senator Bernie Sanders. The curmudgeonly Independent from Vermont may seem an unlikely front-runner for the Democratic Party, but recent polls show that he is rapidly closing the gap with presumed shoe-in Hillary Clinton. With all of the buzz surrounding the Sanders campaign, let’s look at what a Sanders presidency would mean for the solar industry.
On the Democratic side of the race, all of the candidates have pointed to solar as a key to the nation’s economic recovery and low-carbon future. Hillary Clinton is currently calling for the installation of more than a half billion solar panels, or about 140 gigawatts of solar, to be installed in the U.S. by 2020 (although her plan lacks details on how that could be done.) Joe Biden, despite being undeclared as a candidate as of this writing, would presumably continue the Obama administration’s pro-solar policies if he chooses to run. Sanders though, has the unique position of running on a lengthy career in the senate as one of the governing body’s most vocal solar advocates.
According to the environmental website grist.org:
- In 2007, with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), he cosponsored the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, to help states and local governments pay for efficiency and clean energy programs. It was also passed as part of the 2007 energy bill, and both the block grant program and the green jobs program got a funding infusion from the 2009 stimulus package.
- In 2007, he cowrote with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) the Green Jobs Act, which allocated funding for clean energy and energy efficiency research and job training. This did pass, as part of a big 2007 energy bill.
- In 2010, Sanders authored a bill to spread distributed solar throughout the country, the very literally named “10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act.” As Grist’s David Roberts explained, it would “provide rebates that cover up to half the cost of new systems, along the lines of incentive programs in California and New Jersey.” The bill didn’t pass.
- In 2012, Sanders introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act, to get rid of special tax deductions and credits for coal, oil, and gas producers. As he wrote in Grist at the time, “It is immoral that some in Congress advocate savage cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security while those same people vote to preserve billions in tax breaks for ExxonMobil, the most profitable corporation in America.” The bill didn’t pass.
- In 2013, Sanders introduced the Residential Energy Savings Act to fund financing programs that would help residents retrofit their homes for energy efficiency. This bill didn’t become law either.
- In 2013, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sanders introduced the Climate Protection Act, a fee-and-dividend bill. It would tax carbon and methane emissions and rebate three-fifths of the revenue to citizens, then invest the remainder in energy efficiency, clean energy, and climate resiliency. The bill, of course, went nowhere (even if it had advanced in the Democratic-controlled Senate, it would have been DOA in the Republican-controlled House), but it shows that Sanders supports serious solutions and wants to keep the conversation going.
Last month, Sanders introduced legislation designed to make it easier for low-income families to use solar. Sanders “Low Income Solar Act,” was announced the same day that the Obama Administration rolled out its own plan aimed at installing renewable energy in federally subsidized housing.
Sanders bill would provide $200 million in Department of Energy loans and grants to help offset the upfront costs associated with installing solar panels on community facilities, public housing and low-income family homes. Homeowners with suitable roofs would receive grants to help them afford solar panel installation while renters or others without appropriate siting options would get connected through alternative means such as community solar gardens.
Sanders stated that “The scientific community tells us very clearly if we’re going to reverse climate change and the great dangers it poses for the planet we must move aggressively to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. We can achieve this goal, save families money and protect the planet for future generations.”
About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management. He works with students to develop ideas and implement new projects. He is a serial entrepreneur, a freelance writer and partner in Plan B Consulting. He has served as an energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and President of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. At 53, he still likes to climb on roofs and install solar equipment.
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