Boston Ranks No. 4 for Solar Power in Northeast

By ecoRI News staff

BOSTON — The city has more solar energy per capita than most other major cities in the Northeast, besting New York and Philadelphia by a wide margin, according to a recently released report from Environment Massachusetts.

“For years, state and city officials have championed the growth of solar energy,” said Ben Hellerstein, campaign organizer with Environment Massachusetts. “Now, Massachusetts has a booming solar industry that is slashing the state’s carbon emissions, reducing energy costs and creating thousands of local jobs.”

The report, entitled “Shining Cities: Harnessing the Benefits of Solar Energy in America,” ranks Boston 4th in per-capita installed solar capacity in the Northeast, with more than three times as much solar per person as New York or Philadelphia. Among the 64 major U.S. cities included in the report, Boston ranks 20th for the total amount of solar installed within city limits, far ahead of cities such as Houston, Miami and Tampa.

Solar energy has grown by an average of 127 percent annually in Massachusetts over the past three years, according to the 62-page report, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and curbing other forms of air pollution. In 2014, Massachusetts installed enough solar capacity to power 50,000 homes with clean energy, according to the report.

Through its Renew Boston program, the city has made it easier and cheaper for residents, businesses and organizations to go solar, with a goal of installing an additional 10 megawatts of solar energy by 2020. Last year, Boston and Cambridge launched the Race to Solar, a partnership aimed at bringing solar power to more nonprofits and small businesses.

The city of Boston also has an online solar map, in partnership with Mapdwell, a Boston-based M.I.T. spin-off. This map provides residents and businesses accurate and accessible information about going solar. The tool has mapped all 127,000 buildings in Boston for their solar potential and found that Boston has the potential for 2.2 gigawatts of solar power.

“With some of the best incentives in the country, solar makes sense in Boston,” said Austin Blackmon, the city’s chief of environment, energy and open space.

Strong state-level solar policies have played an important role in fostering the growth of solar energy in Boston and across the state, according to Environment Massachusetts.

The state’s net-metering policy allows solar panel owners to receive fair compensation for the electricity they provide to the grid, Hellerstein said. Community shared solar projects are helping many families to access the benefits of solar energy, even if they rent their home or their roof can’t accommodate a solar installation.

The Levedo Building in Dorchester and the Old Colony Housing Project in South Boston are among the affordable housing developments that have installed rooftop solar panels.

“Solar power makes sense for a low-income community like Codman Square: it helps to lower resident energy costs, helps residents stay in place in their homes, and protects resident health by reducing air pollution, all while helping the city reach its climate-change goals,” said Gail Latimore, executive director of the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation. “The Levedo Building, generates about 25 percent of its total electric consumption from a rooftop solar installation.”

Current legislation places a cap on the amount of solar power eligible for net metering, and the limit for solar projects in the National Grid service territory was recently hit, Hellerstein said.

Last month, some 120 supporters of solar energy, including low-income advocates, business leaders, public-health advocates environmental activists, gathered at the Statehouse to ask state officials to take immediate action to raise the net-metering caps. Supporters also delivered letters signed by more than 350 municipal officials and more than 560 small-business leaders asking Gov. Charlie Baker to set a goal of generating 20 percent of Massachusetts’ electricity from solar by 2025.

The state’s solar industry now supports more than 12,000 jobs, according to Environment Massachusetts. More people work in the solar industry in Massachusetts than in any other state except California.