On Tuesday, Vermont Senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders introduced legislation aimed at making it easier for low-income families to take advantage of solar power. The bill, called the “Low Income Solar Act,” came the same day that the Obama Administration announced a similar program aimed at installing 300 megawatts of renewable energy in federally subsidized housing by 2020.
The Sanders bill would aid in this effort by providing $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, according to a press release. The projects would also have to prioritize loans for female- and minority-owned businesses, as well as target specific regions including Appalachia, Indian tribal lands, and Alaskan native communities.
“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,” Sanders said in a statement. “We can achieve this goal, save families money and protect the planet for future generations.”
According to the bill summary, 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. Solar gardens are designed for those without rooftop access as a way to connect to a shared solar system that guarantees their electricity comes from solar power. Usually these community solar gardens are one or two megawatts in size and operated by third-party solar providers and local utilities.
Environmentalists are pleased that Sanders is running for president, as he is one of the climate change action leaders in the Senate.
Environmental activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben recently praised Sanders as “the ultimate what-you-see-is-what-you-get politician.”
“Bernie’s been in the forefront of all the crucial environmental fights of recent years, always willing to knuckle down and do the hard work of fighting the big corporations,” McKibben told the Burlington Free Press.
As ThinkProgress previously reported, after the 2014 election that put the GOP in charge of the Senate, Sanders pushed the chamber to go on the record as to whether climate change is happening, caused by human activity, and resulting in “devastating problems in the United States and around the world.”
In 2015 he attended the People’s Climate March in New York City and told Democracy Now! that climate change is “a huge issue. It’s a planetary crisis. We’ve got to act, and we have to act boldly.”
He has also consistently opposed the Keystone XL pipeline and has talked publicly about the potentially disastrous environmental effects.
While Sanders entered the race an extreme long shot, his popularity has swelled in the early days of the campaign. On a recent visit to Iowa, one of the early caucus states, Sanders drew big crowds as well as the attention of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Sanders is gaining major traction in Iowa polling, and has surpassed Clinton among very liberal voters.