Super-charge the solar power boom

 A worker finishes installing solar panels on top of a building.

Story highlights

  • The solar industry is booming, growing 10 times faster than other jobs in the last year
  • Van Jones: More companies, political figures and Americans should invest in solar energy
  • Solar energy improves standards of living, especially for minority communities, he says

Van Jones is president of Dream Corps and Rebuild The Dream, which promote innovative solutions for America's economy. He was President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. A best-selling author, he is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter @VanJones68. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)There's a solar power boom in America.

But so far, not enough Americans are seeing the benefits of clean energy.
Van Jones
Fortunately, the Obama administration is doing something about it. The solar industry and other government leaders have joined in, but they need to step up even more. And the big polluters should stand down.
    The good news is that -- thanks to plummeting costs -- more and more people across the country are putting solar panels on their homes. By producing their own clean power, they are both fighting pollution and saving money.
    Additionally, the solar industry is driving enormous job growth, boosting the overall economy. In the last year, jobs in the solar industry grew 10 times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy. So far, so good.
    But we need to expand the number of people who can get solar panels on their roofs. Until now, unless you were a typically affluent homeowner with a good credit score to help you get a loan, those solar panels have remained mostly out of reach. As a result, most Americans have been stuck paying high energy bills to big power companies, whose pollution hurts our health and disrupts our climate.
    A growing clean-energy sector reduces the demand for dirty energy, which is good for the planet. But continuing to build it up requires a strategy that is good for the people: smart politics to beat the polluters and accelerating smart economics to help beat poverty.
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    If we want to stop climate disruption, we need everyone on board. We need federal and state agencies to make stronger commitments to defending and spreading clean energy. We can't win political fights against the polluters who want to maintain the old fossil-fuel economy unless we have a big, broad, diverse coalition of stakeholders -- people of every class and color who are directly enjoying the benefits and blessings of clean power.
    More importantly, the clean-energy economy is one of the best shots we have at fighting poverty -- especially in communities of color, where decades of divestment and biased lending, hiring and investment policies have pushed people to the economic edge.
    Low-income neighborhoods stand to benefit more than just about anyone else from the lower electricity bills, improved home values and jobs that solar energy brings.
    But without deliberate, diligent work, our communities are going to be left to watch as the solar boom passes them by. And the oil and coal industries will capitalize on their exclusion to build a backlash alliance against clean energy. If they win, we'll face more air pollution, more climate-fueled disasters, climbing asthma rates and persistent poverty.
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    Thankfully, on July 7 the Obama administration announced a new initiative designed to help deploy solar power in low and moderate-income neighborhoods.
    For months, my organization Green For All has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency, solar companies and champions in Congress from the black, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific-American and progressive caucuses to encourage the White House to take real steps to expand solar power -- and solar jobs -- to more Americans. Our work, and the work of many others, paid off.
    By connecting solar energy to moderate and low-income American households -- including federally subsidized housing -- the Obama administration will cut costs for American families who need it most. Meanwhile, the White House's commitment to expanding solar jobs, energy education and job training for under-served communities will help ensure that the clean-tech boom lifts up people of color and moderate to low-income Americans.
    The announcement sets the stage for a powerful green-growth alliance between solar energy companies, policy leaders and struggling communities -- one that can bring the benefits of clean energy to Americans who are on the front lines of poverty and pollution, including people in places such as the Gulf Coast, which is especially vulnerable to hurricane and flood disasters.
    But we still have work to do. Corporate polluters are terrified of the solar boom. Oil-industry-backed groups have been doing everything they can to stop it, including -- in an absurd twist -- actions such as publishing opinion pieces in newspapers around the country claiming that Obama's climate plan will hurt people of color.
    They claim that this solar bonanza will lead to wealthy people powering their homes for less, while low-income people are stuck with higher energy bills from status-quo utility companies.
    But as long as we put in place common-sense policies, nothing could be further from the truth.
    First of all, under the EPA's Clean Power Plan -- a key centerpiece of Obama's climate plan -- energy bills are in fact projected to go down.
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    Furthermore, more solar energy means less pollution from outdated, coal-fired power plants, which tend to be located close to minority communities. That lethal proximity might help explain why asthma rates among African-American kids are about twice as high as those of white kids.
    The EPA estimates that cutting pollution from dirty power plants will save us an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion per year in climate and health costs by 2030, and will prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.
    More solar energy also means more money in our pockets. Producing your own electricity means lower monthly utility bills. Many Americans already know this, which helps explain why solar installations increased almost 80% in 2014. But with the right policies, the people who stand to benefit the most from these kinds of energy savings are low-income folks.
    And then there are the jobs. Workers in green industries such as solar energy tend to receive higher wages than a number of average-wage jobs, and many of the jobs in the solar industry require less formal education -- a good recipe for escaping poverty. These are exactly the kinds of jobs we need.
    But people of good will must fight for the policies to make all of this possible. Over the next few months, big polluters will be going on the warpath to derail the solar industry and sink President Obama's clean-energy plans.
    They will keep making their wild claims that clean power is bad for minorities. They'll keep prioritizing corporate profits at the expense of more work, more wealth and better health for Americans, especially struggling communities.
    The only way to stop them is to make sure that more communities see the benefits of clean energy and are ready to stand behind it. If solar companies join together with people of color, policymakers and other Americans who care about clean air, we can forge an invincible green-growth alliance.
    President Obama made a bold move by opening the door of opportunity for more Americans. Now we need to make sure dirty energy companies don't shut it.