Boston Just Beginning to Tap Its Solar-Energy Potential

By ecoRI News staff

BOSTON — As Massachusetts continues to debate policies critical to the growth of solar power, a recently released report ranks the city in the middle of the pack for total installed solar capacity.

The report, which ranks Boston 21st among major U.S. cities for solar, comes as the Legislature considers raising Massachusetts’ solar goal to 25 percent solar by 2030.

“By using solar power here in Boston, we can reduce pollution and improve public health,” said Sharon Solomon of Environment Massachusetts. “While Boston has taken some steps to encourage solar energy, we can do much more. Solar has a critical role to play in moving Boston to 100 percent renewable energy.”

The report, Shining Cities: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America, ranks Boston ahead of Philadelphia, Seattle and Miami for the total amount of installed solar, but behind Newark, N.J., Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.

Boston has taken some steps to expand solar energy, such as creating the Renew Boston solar program, which helped lower the cost of solar installations, and installing solar panels on schools and other public buildings. Additionally, businesses and community organizations are exploring innovative models to expand access to solar for low-income housing and churches.

The report outlines additional steps that cities can take to encourage the adoption of solar energy, including requiring “solar-ready” or zero-net-energy buildings and reforming permitting processes.

“With regression happening with environmental policies in Washington, D.C., it is important for cities and towns to lead in solar and renewable energy sources,” City Council member Matt O’Malley said.

The data in the report reflect the recent growth of solar across the country. The top 20 cities listed in the report have nearly as much solar today as the entire country had installed in 2010. In 2016, solar was the No. 1 new source of energy installed in the United States.

The Solar Foundation recently released new data showing there are 12,486 people employed in solar industry in Greater Boston.

Despite that growth, challenges remain for the solar industry in Massachusetts. Caps on the state’s most important solar program, net metering, are holding back the growth of solar energy, according to Environment Massachusetts. The Legislature is currently considering bills that would lift or eliminate the caps on net metering, restore the full value of net-metering credits, and set a goal of generating 25 percent of the state’s electricity from solar by 2030.

Cities can push solar forward in a number of ways, according to the report. Among the recommendations, cities can set a goal for solar usage, help residents finance solar power, and put solar on government buildings.

Across the country, 25 cities, including Burlington, Vt., have committed to get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

“Cities are big energy users with lots of unutilized roof space suitable for solar panels,” Solomon said. “Boston has only just begun to tap its solar potential.”