World’s Worst Coal-Funding Bank Just Saved the Biggest US Rooftop Solar Project Ever

occupy wall street photo newspaperAt a time when banks could hardly be more unpopular, one of America’s most despised has just saved the biggest solar rooftop project in US history.

It is not just the Occupy Wall St protesters who are angry at the behavior of banks. At the Durban Climate Talks this week, NGOs attending the Durban Climate Talks named the three worst banks in the world who have funded the most coal projects since the Kyoto Accord was signed. Funding coal projects is about the worst thing banks can do for the climate. The top three banks in the world for coal project funding are… JP Morgan Chase, Citibank and Bank of America. (All, you might note, US banks).

Yet one of the these three global pariahs (in my opinion) – Bank of America –  has just revived the military SolarStrong project, 120,000 solar installations on military housing rooftops that will more than double the total residential solar installations in the US, and be the largest residential solar project in US history.

Confused? Wait, it gets even more strange…

SolarStrong was an ambitious five-year plan by Solar City, a solar leasing company that installs, owns and operates rooftop solar installations, mostly for homeowners, and provides the homeowners with solar electricity at a lower cost than utility power.

They were just about to be approved in September by the US Department of Energy for financial backing to build more than $1 billion in solar power projects for privatized US military housing communities across the country.

The five-year project plan would comprise a combined 300 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity, distributed across 120,000 installations on military housing rooftops. The Obama administration requires all the Federal Agencies to cut their greenhouse gases 28% by 2020. The military, one of the few US agencies that is adequately funded, has been meeting the requirement with alacrity. They needed additional funding to begin, though, which the DOE was on track to provide.

But then one of the other solar companies that the DOE had guaranteed a loan for went bankrupt and Republicans in the US – who work for the 1%  and against renewable energy – lept at the opportunity to gin-up a fake scandal over solar funding by the Obama administration. 

As Andrew Burger at Cleantechnica puts it:

With the media buzzing about the Solyndra “scandal,” House Republicans launched a campaign to cut and claw back federal funding and financial assistance for clean energy. Caught up in the furor, an anticipated partial DOE Section 1705 loan guarantee fell by the wayside as the DOE notified SolarCity that it would not be able to process the application in time to meet a stipulated program deadline.

The DOE could not meet the deadline because congressional Republicans had added vast quantities of new red tape at the last minute, as Secretary Chu pointed out in an uncharacteristically peevish email to Solar City at the time. So the great project was killed. In the meantime, the Occupy Wall Street movement erupted, spontaneously, worldwide, with its message to banks that the 99% are bigger than you, the 1%.

Bank of America had loaned $4.3 billion for coal projects in just the last year. But that was before the Occupy movement.

With this swift assistance to SolarCity in providing the needed capital for it to invest in the $1 billion 120,000 solar rooftop arrays to revive SolarStrong, BofA is almost a quarter of the way to parity in funding for renewable power for the year. With this surprise move, Bank of America almost appears to be turning its back on the interests of the 1%.

Is there redemption? Perhaps…but this is something that foreigners watching America’s solar business should think about.

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