Report: Cities cashing in on benefits of solar energy

The benefits of solar energy are fairly well-recognized, but not quite as well known is how cities can benefit by installing solar on their own buildings


By Barbara Vergetis Lundin

Fierce Energy

The benefits of solar energy, like job creation and economic development, are fairly well-recognized, but not quite as well known is how cities can benefit by installing solar on their own buildings. Cities can use the rooftops of thousands of municipal buildings to reduce operating costs and pollution, and boost the local economy, according to a new report released today by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), which demonstrates through five case studies how U.S. cities have leveraged solar to slash municipal energy bills and pollution.

"Cities have unused building roofs that are perfectly positioned to capture solar energy," said John Farrell, director of Democratic Energy at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "We knew there was an opportunity, but were surprised by how much money cities could save, how much potential solar could be installed, and how solar on municipal rooftops has spillover effects making solar easier for residents and businesses."

The report details the ways in which five featured cities have overcome the barriers to solar adoption on public property and the substantial benefits of their solar activities. It also highlights remaining barriers, such as state policies.

The "Featured Five" include:

  1. Lancaster, California, which already generates enough solar energy -- with 9 megawatts (MW) -- to power over half the city's peak energy demand and save the municipal budget approximately $450,000 per year.
  2. Denver, Colorado, which has become a municipal solar leader using innovative financing strategies and land at its city-owned airport.
  3. New Bedford, Massachusetts, which is saving $6 to $7 million per year on electricity through its 16 MW of solar installations on municipal buildings -- which is 2.5 percent of the entire city budget.
  4. Raleigh, North Carolina, where, even with inexpensive grid power and limited state policy support, the city has made significant strides in installing solar for municipal use with a unique leasing arrangement.
  5. Kansas City, Missouri, where, facing restrictive state policy and modest sunshine, still managed to install solar on 59 city buildings.

"Cities like Raleigh, NC, and Kansas City, MO, have made remarkable strides given the uphill fight against restrictive state policies, whereas New Bedford, MA, has more solar per capita on public buildings because of two key state policies: aggregate net metering allows the city to group buildings together to offset electricity use and virtual net metering lets the city produce solar energy off-site for municipal use. Rules matter," said Farrell.

In addition to these five case studies, the report estimates that mid-sized cities could install up to 5,000 MW of solar -- as much as one-quarter of all solar installed in the U.S. to date -- on municipal facilities, with little to no cash up front, allowing cities to redirect millions in saved energy costs to other public purposes.

Read full coverage here.

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