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Expediting Solar Energy: The Perfect Mother’s Day Gift for Mother Earth

Walmart is installing solar power generating systems in several locations in California and Arizona, as seen on this Mountain View, CA store, where President Obama announced the commitments today.

Talk about the perfect Mother’s Day present for Mother Earth.

Walmart Thin Film Solar Panels in Mountain View, CA. Photo courtesy: Walmart

President Obama announced at the Walmart in California that 300 leading U.S. companies have taken the “solar pledge,” committing to install nearly 1 gigawatt (GW) of new solar as part of their business plans. That’s an astonishingly huge increase in the use of solar in the commercial sector.

For America’s solar energy industry, this is like getting a triple-A investment rating from Moody’s or Standard and Poor’s. Solar has become a "street-smart" investment. These companies are expanding their use of solar because it makes sense from both a business and social responsibility viewpoint. Having worked closely with both the Administration and the private sector to increase the use of clean, reliable solar nationwide, Solar Energy Industries Association applauds this exciting, new initiative and we look forward to assisting commercial businesses, homebuilders, rural coops, governmental entities and America’s financial community in bringing these new solar installations online.

This bold initiative is part of a solar boom in America which is already taking place. Today, more than 30 utility-scale, clean energy projects are under construction, putting thousands of electricians, steelworkers and laborers to work, while helping to reduce dangerous carbon emissions. These facilities, along with rooftop solar on homes, businesses and schools, will help to generate clean, abundant energy for generations to come. What’s more, innovative solar heating and cooling systems are offering American consumers, businesses and schools cost-efficient, effective options for meeting their energy needs, in addition to reducing our nation’s overall energy consumption.

Clearly, the President sees solar as a critical technology for addressing climate change, and his speech today created a direct link between our need to address climate change and the positive impact that solar can have on reducing pollution. Here’s a breakdown on the commitments announced today:

  • 27 multi-family and low income builders

  • 30 homebuilders and home improvement leaders

  • 199 rural electrical co-ops in 27 states

  • 10 commercial companies, including Walmart, Yahoo, Google, Apple, Ikea, Kaiser Permanente, Clif Bar, Viridity Energy, Bonipak farms and Taylor Farms

  • Four financial institutions, including Citi and Goldman Sachs, have pledged to invest in solar and renewable energy programs

President Obama also highlighted several executive actions, including:

  • The Department of Energy will expand a program that supports solar-sector job training at community colleges. The program will help 50,000 workers enter the industry.

  • The General Services Administration will expand the federal government procurement of solar and will provide innovative financing for solar deployment. This is the first step toward government-wide third party ownership as a mechanism for financing solar.

  • The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service will clarify “how rules regarding real property relate to renewable energy installations.”

  • And many more.

Finally, the President also announced that the White House has now gone “live” with the 6.3kW system on the White House. After six years of lobbying the administration, we are thrilled that they have finalized the installation and that solar is once again back on the White House.

Today’s remarks follow the increased visibility the White House is giving to climate issues. Last summer, the Administration released the President’s Climate Action Plan, followed by a Presidential Memorandum increasing federal solar deployment, a solar mention in the State of the Union, last month’s White House Solar Summit and this week’s sobering National Climate Assessment.

Solar offers real hope for the future. Smart public policies, like the solar Investment Tax Credit, have helped to create 143,000 American jobs in the solar industry, pumped tens of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy, spurred private sector innovation and investment, and helped to fight climate change. They’ve also helped to make solar the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America. But there’s even more we can do as an industry. Minor changes in federal contracting and Treasury regulations would allow solar to compete as a low-cost alternative on federal buildings, saving millions of dollars for taxpayers and putting even more Americans to work. We look forward to working with the President and Congress on a critically-needed, long-term energy policy, which will help to ensure future prosperity for America.

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An elderly woman walks toward us from the road. Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, is a sizable town by Arctic standards, with a full-time population of 954, but it's small enough that the bulk of the town likely knows we're here. The woman is smiling when she reaches us.

"I saw you coming in," she says. "Where you guys come from?" "We're from Vancouver," I say, my mouth still half full of food. "We started our trip in Inuvik nine days ago." Her name is Eileen Jacobsen and she's an Elder in town. She and her husband, Billy, run a sightseeing business. "You should come up to the house in the morning and have some coffee," she tells us.

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I listen to his words, amazed. There's no agenda here, no vested interest, no job creation or moneymaking—just an elderly man bearing witness to his changing world.

Excerpted from Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea by Kevin Vallely, published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Condensed and reproduced with permission from the publisher.

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