FEMA will pay states to install solar panels and heat pumps

People sit in their home lit by a single donated solar lamp more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the island on October 7th, 2017, in San Isidro, Puerto Rico.  | Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced today that it’ll start reimbursing local governments for installing solar panels and more efficient appliances after a disaster strikes.

The move can help communities prepare for another calamity by equipping them with tools that just might keep the lights on when they would otherwise suffer a power outage. It’s also a way for the US to deploy technologies that cut greenhouse gas emissions and stave off worsening climate disasters like storms, heatwaves, and wildfires.

“As the increase of extreme weather hazards become more severe due to climate change, we need to adapt the way we are helping communities rebuild post-disaster,” FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said in a press release. During the 1980s, the US suffered an average of 3.3 disasters per year that each cost over $1 billion in losses. That’s risen to an average of 20.4 such disasters each year since 2019 (adjusted for inflation).

This is the first time FEMA is funding “net-zero energy projects, including solar, heat pumps and efficient appliances” through its biggest grant program, called Public Assistance. It’s available to communities recovering from a major event that the president has declared an emergency or disaster. Under the program, FEMA reimburses state, tribal, territorial, and local governments 75 percent of the cost of eligible recovery efforts. That’s typically been to pay for “emergency protective measures,” debris removal, and to rebuild public infrastructure.

Now, those funds can also go toward installing solar panels and energy-efficient appliances. Solar panels can form microgrids — islands of locally generated power — that residents might be able to rely on even if there’s a blackout on the broader power grid. Energy-saving appliances, including heat pumps that are more efficient than traditional air conditioners, can also help prevent power outages by taking pressure off the grid when cooling demand peaks during heatwaves.

Funding for the new program comes from the Inflation Reduction Act, the US’s biggest investment yet in climate action and clean energy.

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