CHARLOTTE, NC — The Queen City is one of America’s leaders in harnessing solar power, according to a new report from environmental advocates. Environment Maryland, a citizen-based advocacy project of Environment America, on Wednesday released its report "Shining Cites: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America."
The report says the U.S. now has more than 53 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic, or PV, capacity installed, which could keep the lights on for more than 10 million homes. That’s also 26 timesmore capacity than seven years earlier.
Just 20 cities accounted for more than 4 percent of the country’s total installed PV capacity, the report said. Geographically, those cities represent just 0.1 percent of America’s total landmass.
At the end of last year, Charlotte had a total installed solar PV capacity of 13.2 megawatts, the group said. That makes it 28th in the country, behind cities such as Chicago, Dallas and Seattle. Los Angeles was tops in the nation with a total solar PV installed capacity of 349.3 megawatts. The only East Coast city to crack the top 10 was New York.
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The total number includes all solar PV capacity, meaning rooftop and utility-scale solar panels, within the city limits.
Charlotte wasn’t named a "Solar Star" by the group, which recognizes cities that have 50 or more watts of solar PV capacity installed per person. While Honolulu ranked first with 606.4 watts of solar PV installed per person, Charlotte ranked No. 41 for 15.7 watts installed per person and was named a "Solar Builder." Once again, states in the West lead the way, with three California cities cracking the top 10.
Regional leaders included Honolulu, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Washington, D.C. and Burlington, Vermont.
Every "Solar Star" city has seen major gains in solar power, the organization said, and is setting a precedent for other states. Five years ago, just eight cities surveyed had enough solar PV per person to be designated a "Solar Star." Now, 18 have earned the title.
Thirteen cities earned the distinction of "Solar Leader," 24 cities were named "Solar Builders" and 13 were named "Solar Beginners." Leaders have 25 to 50 watts of solar PV per person, while builders have 5 to 25 watts per person and beginners have less than 5 watts per person.
The organization says America’s major cities have played a vital role in what it called the clean energy revolution, and stands to reap "tremendous benefits" from solar energy.
"Solar power can allow cities to curb emissions that contribute to global warming, become more resilient to severe weather, help residents stabilize their energy bills, and improve public health through reduced air pollution," the report said.
The group recommended four steps that local government officials could take, including in Charlotte, to move toward an economy completely powered by renewable energy sources. They are:
Pass local solar access laws that protect people’s rights to generate solar energy on their property. Simplify the permitting, zoning and inspection process, and make it faster and more affordable. Give apartment renters access to solar energy, as well as low-income residents, small businesses and nonprofits. This could be accomplished via low-interest financing programs, power purchase deals, collective buying programs and community solar projects. Advocate for stronger state-level solar policies, particularly by joining efforts with other communities.
Some cities have proven to be a model for others in adopting solar power, the report said. The key difference between them is that some cities lack effective public policy.
"State and local policies are core ingredients of a successful solar market," the authors wrote. "Cities where solar homeowners are paid a fair price for the energy they supply to the grid, where installing solar panels is easy and hasslefree, where there are attractive options for solar financing, and where there has been a strong commitment to support solar energy development, are cities where solar energy is taking off."
Click here to read the full report.
Patch reporter Dan Hampton contributed to this report.
Photo credit: Shutterstock / Pan Demin