Solar Fiddling on Affordable Housing Roofs?

As part of my many career misadventures, I worked as the editor of a magazine that covered the renewable energy industry. I came to the job with minimal knowledge of the subject and, following a year’s worth of intensive study and observation, left with minimal respect for the subject.

My problem with renewable energy is that it is a feel-good bromide rather than a practical solution. Solar and wind power technology is expensive and the results, quite frankly, are woefully inefficient to meet the power generation needs of the nation. And while few people will openly criticize renewable energy, federal data confirms that it is making no impact on the American power structure: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, solar energy is responsible for only 0.11 percent of all national electrical power generation, while wind energy generates a mere 3.46 percent of the nation’s total power.

Back in 2008, Barack Obama ran for president promising a new wave of so-called “green jobs” tied to renewable energy. Needless to say, these jobs never materialized – which is no surprise, considering that many of the renewable energy companies that supported the Obama presidential bid later went out of business. (And that renewable energy magazine I edited also became extinct!)

However, the Obama Administration is still pushing its renewable energy shtick by arm-twisting providers of affordable housing to commit to the installation of expensive on-site renewable energy solutions on Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-assisted multifamily housing.

“HUD is addressing the issue of climate change by creating opportunities and programs for affordable housing owners to take advantage of renewable energy resources, saving energy and money,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in a press release issued in May. “Thanks to the leadership of our multifamily partners and developers, we are on track to meet and surpass President Obama’s challenge to reach 100 megawatts of on-site renewable energy on affordable housing by 2020.”

The HUD press release also cited 27 partnerships with affordable housing providers that the department insists “will create good jobs while cutting carbon pollution.”

Of course, an Obama Administration promise of creating good jobs carries no value anymore. But I was fairly surprised to learn that HUD thinks affordable multifamily housing developments across the United States played such a lethal role in the destruction of our environment. I was under the impression that the greatest threat to the global ecosystem came from the abysmally high level of pollution generated in growing economies like China and India, and not from the Denver Housing Authority or California’s Yolo County Housing Authority – which are among the 27 affordable housing providers being charged with slicing away at carbon pollution.

And while HUD is “addressing the issue of climate change” – which is not part of its mandate, but that’s another story – it doesn’t appear to be addressing the issue of affordable housing. Indeed, it appears that the department is wasting its time on idiocy like this rather than tackling far more serious challenges, including the meager affordable housing opportunities across the country.

In testimony delivered before a Senate hearing last November, Dr. Sheila Crowley, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, spelled out a housing crisis that cannot be solved with photovoltaic solar panels.

“In 2011, there were 10.1 million extremely low income renter households in the United States and only 5.5 million homes renting at prices they could afford,” said Dr. Crowley before the Senate. “This is the only income group for which there is an absolute shortage of homes. Worse, many of the homes renting in the price range that an extremely low income family could afford are, in fact, occupied by higher income people. Nationwide, there are just 30 homes that are available for every 100 extremely low income renter households.”

Even worse, Dr. Crowley cited HUD data in her testimony that found the number of households with “worst case housing needs” increased by 43% between 2007 and 2011.

Instead of wasting resources in pushing for “100 megawatts of on-site renewable energy on affordable housing by 2020,” maybe HUD should be pushing for a 100 percent increase in the quantity of affordable housing units by 2020? Instead of using multifamily developments for “cutting carbon pollution,” how about if HUD offered a multifamily housing strategy that addressed the real problems facing Americans today?

HUD needs to stop playing stupid political games with ridiculous renewable energy solutions and start focusing on its real mission. And if it still won’t do its job, then maybe HUD needs a large carbon footprint kicked up its lazy backside!

About The Author

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Phil Hall has been (among other things) a United Nations-based radio journalist, the president of a public relations and marketing agency, a financial magazine editor, the author of six books and a horror movie actor. Also, as you will discover, he is not shy about stating his views.