Anyone following climate action over the past decade is well aware that some of the greatest strides in renewables have come from the broad acceptance and implementation of solar panels. The combination of decreasing costs, increasing generation capacity, and programs that incentivize its adoption have seen the solar industry soar.
While these developments are important, an under-covered part of the story is the role that cities and communities can play in expanding access to solar. By doing so, local government can lead their communities to achieve lower energy bills, more jobs, and a healthier, cleaner climate.
What Can Cities Do
Fortunately, city and municipal leaders play an important gatekeeping role when it comes to renewables. In many communities, the greatest barriers to implementing solar programs, and for residents to install rooftop panels, is simply getting through the red tape of constructing, permitting and funding the technology. In order to tear down some of these barriers, cities can implement programs that expedite the process.
Such a program is already underway in a number of cities throughout California, and the early results are encouraging. In 2014, the state passed a bill allowing cities the ability to expedite permitting for smaller-scale solar projects—like those used for residential or small business purposes. By streamlining the process, homeowners and solar companies are able to decrease the costs associated with longer, drawn-out construction schedules.
These fast-track programs have cut the permitting process, which now can be completed in as little as a few hours. To further increase the speed and efficiency of solar installation, cities are boosting the number of solar inspectors, and Los Angeles has even incorporated an online component to its permitting process. These efforts are aimed at making the process as painless and speedy as possible. And efficiency leads to cheaper construction costs for solar companies—cost savings that are passed down to consumers.
Bringing solar power to residents faster, cheaper, and more efficiently allows adopters to see the benefits of renewables. These benefits range from lower energy bills to creating clean jobs in underserved communities.
One of the most powerful reasons for cities to push solar development is that rooftop and community solar help drive down energy prices for residents. A recent report shows that rooftop solar installations will typically pay for themselves in 6-7 years. What’s more, over twenty years, depending on whether one leases or buys their solar energy system, residents can save anywhere from $40,000 – $60,000. These are real savings, and put money back into the pockets of residents—especially in low-income communities.
This groundbreaking new law will enable us to extend the benefits of solar power to many diverse populations – our seniors, our local small businesses, our nonprofits, and our residents and families living on a fixed income.” Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser
More solar means more jobs. In Washington DC, a new program aims at installing 6,000 homes in low-income communities every year through 2032. The solar installations will help lower energy bills for residents, and will also provide stable, well-paying jobs for members of the community. D.C. officials, in conjunction with residents in the community and the solar nonprofit, GRID Alternatives, will provide at least 100 jobs in the first year of the program. This number is expected to grow over the term of the project, and employees will have access to cutting-edge technology and construction training.
Solar power is a winning climate solution. New technologies on the horizon are making panels cheaper and more efficient than ever. Researchers are even developing solar cells that are able to take CO2 from the air, and produce materials that can even be used in the construction of batteries, sustainable materials, and even fuel.
Cities can play a critical role when it comes to climate action, and solar power is a great place to begin. By streamlining the process for residents to adopt solar, mayors and municipal leaders can facilitate the growth of this renewable energy solution—bringing lower bills and jobs to residents in their communities. Americans want their leaders to act on climate, and a growing majority support climate-wise policies—making action a political and environmental win-win. Get to work in your community and lead residents to climate solutions by joining Path to Positive Communities today!
Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University, where he focused on climate change, political communications and psychology. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.