Energy department pushes distributed solar (even as Trump pushes coal)

  • Published on June 13th, 2017

Do they have a hearing problem over there at the US Department of Energy, or are they deliberately trying to get under President Trump’s skin? Every time the President starts talking up coal jobs, Energy Secretary Rick Perry claps back with some really nice things to say about clean tech and renewables. The latest example is a doozy, with a hot and heavy new pitch for a distributed solar power program that was developed last year.

By Tina Casey distributed solar vs dirty energy

Yes, that’s right. The Energy Department is talking up the spectacular success of the Obama Administration, right under Trump’s nose. If the President wasn’t so tied up with other business (see Russia, Prospects for Impeachment) you could expect a classic tweetstorm of rage directed at Perry followed by “You’re fired!” That could still happen, so fasten your seatbelts.

Talking Up Distributed Solar…

News about the distributed solar program popped up last Friday in an Energy Department press release under the title, “EERE Success Story — Real Estate Professionals Embrace Solar Power.”

That’s quite interesting in and of itself, considering that the newly minted head of EERE (the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) is Daniel Simmons, a well known fan of fossil fuels.

Simmons was tapped for the post by the Trump Administration in May, apparently without warning to Perry. And, apparently, Perry is not happy with the situation. The Energy Department did not provide Simmons with an official welcome (at least, not one that appeared online), and it continued churning out the good news about renewables nonstop, Simmons or no Simmons.

The new press release is a case in point. Here’s the lede:

As solar energy’s popularity continues to grow among homeowners, it’s changing the way people buy and sell homes. Because solar has been found to consistently add value to homes, real estate agents need a new way to fairly value solar homes and make sure house hunters can easily find key solar system information.

Wow — who wrote that, the Sierra Club? That thing about “consistently add value to homes” sure looks like someone is throwing out chum to the businessman who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at the present time.

The program in question is a set of data standards developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in collaboration with real estate industry stakeholders, which partly explains the Energy Department’s enthusiasm. During his tenure as Energy Secretary, Perry has positioned himself as a champion of the agency’s national laboratory network.

The uniform data standards can be used in the 700 or so multiple listing services real estate databases that currently exist in the US, and with which every house hunter and real estate agent is already familiar.

Basically, the idea is to enable sellers to get optimal value from their investment in distributed solar power. That’s the kind of predictability makes rooftop solar the same kind of value-investment that home owners are comfortable with, such as a bathroom makeover or an energy efficiency upgrade.

In any case, power purchase agreements make it possible for property owners to get their hands on onsite solar without any up front costs.

Who could hate it?

On the flip side, the Berkeley Lab database provides information of value to prospective home buyers, such as the age of the solar panels and ownership details.

…Shouting Out To The Obama Administration…

The program launched in California in January 2017, about a year ahead of schedule, as a new addition to the largest multiple listing service in the US. That would be in California, of course, where solar adoption is already as high as 20% in some areas.

The choice of California is meant to show other states how quickly the real estate industry can adopt the new standards, and it looks like four states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire — could be next in line.

So, here’s where it gets interesting. The press release concludes with this observation about the cooperation between EERE and the real estate industry (perhaps channeling the Environmental Defense Fund this time)…

An enormous success for the growing solar industry, this collaboration demonstrates that when complementary industries embrace solar, both stand to benefit.

…and a “learn more” link that leads straight to a 2016 Energy Department blog post explaining why the new program is being developed and underscoring the central point:

Just like a renovated kitchen or a finished basement increases a home’s value, solar has been shown to boost home valuation and shorten a home’s time on the market.

#ThanksObama!

…And Giving The Bronx Cheer To Trump On Coal

And, here’s where it gets even more interesting. The pro-solar press release appeared on June 9, just one day after Trump visited a newly opened coal mine in Pennsylvania.

Nothing seems to happen by accident in the Rick Perry public relations shop, so it’s worth noting that, like the new solar real estate database, the coal mine was in the works long before Trump took office.

According to our friends over at the Washington Post, plans for the new mine were cemented last August, right around the time that Berkeley Lab was gearing up its solar database.

Trump is taking credit for the coal mine, so why not take credit for the solar program, too?

Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, it’s worth asking yet again: is Rick Perry laying the ground for another run at the White House on a pro science, woman-in-STEM supporting champion of clean tech platform?

Sure seems that way — and the way things are going, he might not have to wait until 2024 to get his shot.

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(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica. Photo via US Department of Energy.)

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