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President Biden visits Prince William park to talk solar, youth involvement on Earth Day

Virginia set to receive $156 million from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program

By Charlie Paullin, Virginia Mercury - April 23, 2024
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Joe Biden

President Joe Biden stopped by Prince William Forest Park in Triangle on Monday, as the country celebrated Earth Day, to tout two initiatives to combat climate change: expanding solar access and creating jobs to fuel America’s environmental efforts.

Called the Solar for All program, Biden told the crowd that families could save about $400 a year on their electric bills by tapping into the federal initiative that will provide grant funding to expand the development of solar projects nationwide.

The American Climate Corps is aimed at spurring youth involvement by providing information on training and employment opportunities for climate resilience and clean energy jobs.

“Over the last two years, natural disasters and extreme weather in America have cost $270 billion in damages,” Biden said. ”And the impacts we’re seeing [are] decades in the making, [and] because of inaction are only going to get worse, more frequent, ferocious and costly.” 

The Solar for All program, under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, awarded $7 billion nationwide with about $156 million for Virginia. 

The program, Biden said, would reduce 5 million metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions, which include the carbon dioxide pollutants that become trapped in the atmosphere, warming the planet and leading to more intense and frequent fires and flooding.

Virginia has already taken steps to use renewable energy sources, including solar: In 2020, the General Assembly passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which seeks to decarbonize the grid by mid-century. 

En route to that goal, the legislature recently expanded a shared solar program for Dominion Energy customers and created one for Appalachian Power customers, so that residents who may have faulty or shady roofs can get solar from a central facility of panels that other community members may also subscribe to. 

Tax incentives for building solar on rooftops and brownfields, including formerly mined lands, were also expanded in Virginia’s 2024 legislative session. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which includes Northern Virginia jurisdictions, recently adopted a goal for 250,000 rooftops to install solar panels.

The Virginia Department of Energy said about 50% of the state’s households are eligible to benefit from the Solar for All program, which will have access to the federal funding for the next five years.

“Adding more residential solar is essential to our all of the above approach for clean and affordable energy in Virginia,” said the department’s director Glenn Davis. “Virginia also recognizes the significant economic development and job growth opportunities across the Commonwealth that will accompany this growth in residential solar and welcomes new investment by the solar industry.” 

Southern Environmental Law Center staff attorney Josephus Allmond said, the federal investment can go toward expanding the state’s shared solar opportunities, among others, while going “a long way for low- to moderate-income Virginians, a group that’s largely been left out of the residential solar conversation.”

“The award will go towards the range of different solar programs: direct ownership, third-party ownership, and subscriber-based,” Allmond said. The “transformative award” will make Virginia’s clean energy transition more equitable, Allmond continued, by “providing more access to solar leasing and power purchase agreements, increasing access to financing, and removing barriers to interconnection.”

On the job front, Biden’s announcement came at a park created about a hundred years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps under the New Deal, which was the blueprint for the American Climate Corps that both U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and U.S. Sen. Ed Marky, D-Mass, have advocated for.

Job seekers can visit the board’s website for more information on  over 2,000 positions in 36 states, including Virginia, Biden said. 

“Just like a century ago, the Climate Corps is part of a vision affirming that our environmental and economic future are intertwined,” Ocasio-Cortez said before Biden took the stage. “So let’s invest in both. I truly believe that the young people who join this first American Climate Corps cohort are and will continue to become profoundly influential leaders in the United States.”

The creation of the new corps comes after the U.S. EPA last year announced an initiative to involve young Americans by creating the Youth Advisory Council, which included 21-year-old Sophia Kianni, of McLean.

In Virginia, several high schools have incorporated climate study programs, as have environmental organizations, like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which offers programs geared toward teaching youth about environmental issues.

bill this past session introduced by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond would have created climate change and environmental literacy instructional materials and model policies in Virginia’s schools. But Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed it, saying the state’s Standards of Learning already provide instructional material related to environmental issues.

“The first year of the [Solar for All] program will be set aside for planning the distribution of funds,” according to the Department of Energy. Funding for rooftop or shared solar programs will become available in 2025. 

This story was originally published by the Virginia Mercury


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