By Daniel Brown
The California Energy Commission voted unanimously last week to require rooftop solar on new homes and apartments by 2020, with reasonable exceptions. The commission estimates the new rules will lead to a reduction of 493 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year. That’s approximately equivalent to taking 50,000 cars off the road or the amount of carbon sequestered by 965,000 acres of healthy forestland. That’s an area about 20% larger than Rhode Island.
There is no way to generate electricity in a more environmentally-friendly way than through rooftop solar installations and they provide a number of financial benefits to the property owner over time. Whereas other good options like wind and community solar often require open space, rooftop solar utilizes already-developed space. That leaves more room for parks, conservation areas, and vital green spaces that keep our towns and cities healthy and resilient to a changing climate.
A common concern about rules requiring solar panels is the potential increase in cost of home ownership, but rooftop solar will add $40 on average to a monthly mortgage payment while giving the same household $80 in savings on energy costs.
Massachusetts can and should lead as California has. Bay Staters have repeatedly demonstrated support for renewable energy initiatives that improve the health of the planet for future generations. Massachusetts is often rated among the most attractive states for adding solar panels to rooftops, and is, by some measures, the best. Massachusetts also has a leg up on California in community solar development, a fact experts often attribute to manageable regulations and progressive incentives that make community-scale projects attractive.
But our requirements for rooftop solar on new development are lagging behind. In 2014, California required new houses to have roofs and electrical systems that were compatible with solar panel installations. While some communities in Massachusetts have put in place similar rules, many more should follow suit, and a statewide standard like California’s first step would make smart development easier in the coming years.
To meet Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act mandate of an 80% carbon emissions reduction by 2050, we will need to pursue aggressive, innovative solutions that benefit everyone in the Commonwealth. Rooftop solar is one strategy we will need to employ. It is the future. It’s better, it’s smarter, and it’s coming whether it’s now or later. The sooner we embrace it, the brighter that future will be.
Daniel Brown is Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator