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As the nation swelters through a summer filled with record-high temperatures, the Biden administration is unveiling a new set of actions intended to help Americans cope with the heat and the soaring electricity costs that accompany it.
The website is the public portal for the National Integrated Heat Health Information System, a collaboration among an array of federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It provides data tools for following extreme heat advisories and links to resources for local government officials, such as the CDC’s guide for how to set up a cooling center.
As summer temperatures have steadily risen in recent decades, air-conditioning costs have also sharply increased. On Wednesday — with more than 44 million Americans living in areas under an extreme heat warning — the White House announced a set of actions to defray those costs and boost solar power, to ensure that increased demand for electricity, which in some states is predominantly generated from sources that produce greenhouse gases, doesn’t make climate change even worse.
“The president since day one of this administration has been focused on both how we adapt to the climate impacts we have unleashed and how we help Americans tap into the opportunity that climate solutions like clean energy deployment represent,” said a senior administration official during a background briefing for the press on Wednesday morning. “Front of mind for the American people is the extreme heat that tens of millions are living with.”
The three most substantial programs announced Wednesday are designed to help low-income households and residents of federally subsidized affordable housing.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is issuing new guidance so that community-net-metering credits will not be included in household income and utility allowance calculations. This means that families in low-income, federally subsidized housing can subscribe to local community solar power, in which multiple households share the cost and savings of solar panels even if they don’t own their own property to host the panels. (Upfront costs can still be an impediment for low-income households, but increasingly, it is possible to pay only a portion of the cost savings in monthly installments, with no up-front costs for installation.) HUD estimates that this could help 4.5 million families save an average of 10% per year on their electric bills.
Separately, HUD will also launch an initiative to help small rural housing authorities make energy-efficiency upgrades.
The Department of Energy and the Department of Health and Human Services announced that Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Washington, D.C., will pilot the Community Solar Subscription Platform, which will connect community solar to households participating in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Last week, Biden announced that LIHEAP participants will, for the first time, be able to use the program’s funds for air conditioning in the summer, not just heat in the winter.
As part of Wednesday’s package of announcements, the Department of Energy unveiled moves to expand and diversify the solar manufacturing and installation workforce through apprenticeships and other training programs.
Climate change this summer is causing more frequent and severe heat waves. At times in the last two months, as many as 200 million Americans have found themselves living under advisories. Last week, cities across Arkansas, Missouri and Texas set new records, with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. During a simultaneous heat wave in Europe, more than 1,700 people died from heat-related causes in Spain and Portugal, where temperatures have hit almost 110°F.
So far global average temperatures have increased 1.1°C (2°F) since before the Industrial Revolution, due to increased atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping gases, mostly from burning fossil fuels. According to the EPA, between 600 and 1,300 Americans die annually of heat-related causes. Without action to mitigate and adapt to climate change, that number is expected to rise dramatically in the years to come.
Cover thumbnail photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP