Obama's new executive actions on energy

This article first appeared at SustainableBusiness.com and is reprinted with permission.

Taking the opportunity to turn the U.S. National Climate Assessment into action, President Barack Obama announced new steps to stem climate change.

"Together the commitments we are announcing today prove there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time. It will be good for the economy long term. Rising sea levels, drought, wildfires, more severe storms — those are bad for the economy, so we can't afford to wait," he said in Mountain View, Calif., last week.

More than 300 business and public sector leaders confirmed pledges to significantly increase their use of solar, including Google, Goldman Sachs, Ikea and Yahoo. Walmart repeated a previous announcement that it will double on-site solar by 2020 (sounds good, but still only brings them to 8 percent of demand). More impressive are new pledges from affordable housing and homebuilder developers, rural electric co-ops, school districts and city and state governments. Together, the pledges add up to 850 megawatts of solar.

Kaiser Permanente, for example, says it will increase on-site solar by as much as 50 megawatts, from 11.3 MW, at hospitals and medical campuses. But that would still only provide 6 percent to 8 percent of its electricity used in California.

To build on momentum in energy efficiency and solar, Obama announced executive orders in several key areas. These include building a skilled solar workforce, providing innovative financing for deploying solar, driving investment in energy upgrades to federal buildings, improving appliance efficiency and strengthening building codes. Highlights follow.

Building a skilled solar workforce: Expand the Department of Energy's Solar Instructor Training Network at community colleges, with a goal of helping 50,000 people enter the solar industry by 2020. Since 2010, the network has trained 22,000 people at 400 community colleges in 49 states.

Innovative financing for solar: The General Services Administration is identifying opportunities for potential Federal Aggregated Solar Procurements in the Washington DC region and Northern California. Agencies would buy solar systems together, capitalizing on economies of scale. The president said the Treasury Department and IRS soon will clarify rules to allow renewable energy financing through REITs.

$2 billion more for federal building upgrades: This doubles his 2011 commitment for upgrades over the next three years through the Better Buildings Challenge. Besides saving taxpayers billions on energy bills and promote energy independence, it will create tens of thousands of jobs in the hard-hit construction sector. There's already a $2.7 billion pipeline in energy savings contracts.

26 new partners have signed on, adding another billion square feet of upgrades, including Walmart, General Mills, City of San Diego, Jonathan Rose Companies, Hannon Armstrong and Enterprise Community Partners.

Strengthen building codes: The latest version of the U.S. building code 0151 — the 2013 edition of ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1 — will tighten energy efficiency by 8.5 percent from the previous version and up to 30 percent from most state energy codes.

High performance outdoor lighting accelerator: Led by DOE, the goal is to replace over 500,000 outdoor lights and develop best practice approaches to municipal system-wide upgrades. Charter cities are Detroit; Huntington Beach, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; and West Palm Beach, Fla.

Appliances: DOE is issuing energy efficiency standards for electric motors and walk-in coolers and freezers.

The White House issued a Fact Sheet detailing these and other actions and pledges.

President Obama image by Pete Souza via the White House.