US Cities Can Lead a Rooftop Solar Revolution

June 2, 2015 By Karen Henry

municipal solar Energy ManageThe advent of affordable solar energy provides cities a remarkable opportunity to reduce their operating costs, among other benefits. Over 5,000 MW of solar — more than a quarter of the nationwide total capacity through September 2014 — could be installed on the rooftops of municipal buildings in more than 200 mid-sized cities, according to Public Rooftop Revolution, a new report published by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

However, cities cite a number of barriers that are preventing them from reaching their full solar potential:

  • City structures may lack sunshine or suitable roof space.
  • Some city buildings are historic and may have state or federal limitations on adding solar.
  • Some cities are reluctant to negotiate solar contracts without greater in-house expertise.
  • Cities may require multiple levels of approval for a single solar array.

Other barriers include ineligibility for federal tax incentives and competition for scarce operating and capital budgets.

Several cities have proven that such barriers are surmountable. Lancaster, California, for example, generates enough solar energy — 9 MW — to power over half of its municipal operations and save about $450,000 per year. New Bedford, Massachusetts, is saving $6 to $7 million per year on electricity through its 16 MW of solar installations on municipal properties.

Other cities are spearheading efforts to overcome policy-driven obstacles. Kansas City, Missouri, has shortened permit waiting times to eight hours or less, provided online permitting and lowered inspection times to eight hours or less.

Denver cut its solar permitting fee to just $50, helping to more than double citywide solar deployment from January 1 to December 31, 2014.

Cities can save even more on solar with bulk purchasing. A joint procurement effort in the San Francisco area has 19 agencies issuing a joint request for proposals for 31 MW of solar to power 186 facilities. The total cost could be reduced by as much as 45 percent.

Photo via Shutterstock.

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