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Obama renews solar bid despite setbacks

US President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with small business owners in the White House in Washington/AFP

US President Barack Obama/AFP

WASHINGTON, May 9- President Barack Obama praised Friday measures taken by his administration to develop solar energy in the United States, despite attacks and setbacks from his Republican opponents.

Obama, who is concluding a three day fundraising tour of California, announced commitments to develop solar energy and energy efficiency by more than 300 private and public sector groups in a variety of sectors.

The plan includes thousands of homes that will go solar and more than 850 megawatts of solar energy deployed — enough to power about 130,000 homes.

Separate energy efficiency investments will lower utility bills for more than a billion square feet (93 million square meters) of buildings, according to the White House.

Obama also unveiled new executive actions set to provide for an extra $2 billion in energy efficiency investments, improved buildings and smarter appliances.

The executive actions will also cut carbon pollution by more than 380 million metric tons — the equivalent of taking 80 million cars off the road for a year — provide $26 billion in energy savings for businesses and support training programs for 50,000 people to enter the solar industry workforce by 2020.

About a quarter of new power generation capacity was from solar energy last year, making it second only to natural gas. And the cost of a solar energy system has dropped more than 50 percent during the past three years.

The White House said the United States has also increased its solar electricity generation by 10 times and tripled its electricity production from wind power since Obama first took office in 2009.

“President Obama is committed to making 2014 a year of action and has pledged to use the power of his phone and his pen to expand opportunity for all Americans,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

But solar energy still only accounts for a tiny portion of US electricity production — about 0.5 percent. About half comes from utility companies and the remainder from people who have installed solar panels at their homes.

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Renewable energy (hydroelectric, wind, biomass) accounts for 12 percent of total energy production, according to the latest official figures of the US Energy Information Administration.

The EIA expects that number to reach 16 percent by 2040.

Obama’s announcement follows a major White House report released Tuesday that warned of the serious environmental damage human activities are already causing across the United States.

In June, Obama unveiled a wide-ranging initiative to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gases and boosting the use of renewable energy sources, with a goal of cutting those emissions by 17 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2020.

Despite being a major pledge of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, so-called “green” jobs have struggled to materialize in large part due to the financial crisis that hampered his first term and Chinese competition on equipment.

Obama’s Republican foes have also targeted his administration over the Solyndra affair that saw the solar panel maker go bankrupt in 2011, swallowing more than $500 million in public loans with it.

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