DOE to support the biggest home solar rooftop project in U.S.

Navy ship

The largest residential solar rooftop program in U.S. history is on its way. Energy Secretary Steve Chu announced its arrival on Wednesday with a partial guarantee for a $344 million loan to help solar installers put solar panels on military housing and other buildings over the next five years.

California-based SolarCity will install up to 371 MW of solar equipment in up to 124 military bases and 33 states, the DOE said. The SolarStrong Project, which could see solar panels cropping up on as many as 160,000 rooftops, will cost more than $1 billion, SolarCity said..

SolarCity plans to hire military veterans and their family members for some of the jobs that will be created by the project, and the job is expected to produce 750 construction jobs over the next five years and 28 full-time jobs to run and maintain the systems.

SolarCity said it will install, own and operate the solar systems. Military housing developers and management firms will buy the solar electricity via long-term contracts and are expecting to save energy costs over time to plow the savings into housing improvement projects, said Jonathan Bass, a spokesman for SolarCity. Military housing is privatized.

Although the loan guarantee is conditional – meaning it has yet to be finalized – SolarCity already has started on the project. It’s installing a 4 MW project at Hickam Air Force in Hawaii.

USRG Renewable Finance, part of US Renewables Group, will be the lead lender for the $344 million loan, along with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The DOE didn’t say how much of the loan it will guarantee, but the program applied by USRG can guarantee up to 80 percent of a loan. The program, Financial Institution Partnership Program (FIPP), is different from the one from which DOE issued the now infamous $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, which filed for bankruptcy yesterday. Solyndra didn’t use the guarantee to line up a lender in the private banking sector, and instead it received the loan from the Treasury-run Federal Financing Bank.

Both sources of funding came from an umbrella fund Congress created two years ago to create jobs and promote clean energy production. The fund, commonly referred to as Section 1705, is expiring at the end of this month, and all the companies that have yet to finalize their Section 1705 loan guarantees will have until then to do so and start construction, or else they’ll lose the financial support. One company, Calisolar, bowed out of the application process after securing a $275 million loan guarantee because it reportedly didn’t think it could start the solar factory project to meet the deadline.

The U.S. military has an opportunity to become a major consumer of clean energy and biofuels. Here are seven ways the military is embracing cleantech.

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