Boston — Environment Massachusetts was joined today by Brian Swett, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space for the City of Boston, and solar advocates to release Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution, a new report ranking Boston 3rd among major cities in the northeastern United States for total installed solar energy capacity. The report also highlights New Bedford as a solar leader among smaller cities.
Shining Cities provides a first-of-its-kind comparative look at the growth of solar in major America cities. The report was released at an event in front of the Joseph M. Tierney Learning Center at the Old Colony Housing Project in South Boston, surrounded by affordable housing units topped with solar panels.
"In Massachusetts and across the country, solar energy is growing rapidly," said Ben Hellerstein, field associate for Environment Massachusetts. "We’re now getting much more clean, renewable energy from the sun than we did just a few years ago, and cities like Boston and New Bedford are helping to lead the way."
The report found that there is more than 200 times as much solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed in the United States today compared to 2002, and much of that growth has taken place in America’s cities. The top 20 cities account for 7 percent of the country’s installed photovoltaic solar, while occupying only 0.1 percent of the land area.
"We are thrilled to be recognized as a national leader in solar power," said Brian Swett, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space for the City of Boston. "Mayor Walsh wants to build on this success and continues to support new initiatives to encourage the widespread adoption of solar power and other renewable energy technologies in Boston."
Shining Cities also documents the rapid growth of solar energy in New Bedford. The city’s Energy Office, created in 2010, has helped to facilitate the creation of solar farms on brownfields, and has installed solar panels on schools and other public buildings. New Bedford is on track to hit its goal of 10 MW of solar power more than a year early.
"New Bedford’s renewable power program is strengthening our City’s economy, our education system, and our environment, while saving taxpayers considerable money in the years ahead," said Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford. "Every city in America should be doing what we are doing here in New Bedford, and I could not be prouder of the creativity, commitment, and teamwork of all those here who helped us reach our goals."
The report highlights several benefits from solar energy:
- Solar energy avoids pollution: Solar energy reduces air pollution that contributes to urban smog and global warming. It also helps avoid the massive consumption of water to cool fossil fuel power plants.
- Solar energy protects consumers: Since solar has no fuel costs, it can protect us from the rising cost of fossil fuels.
- Solar energy helps the economy: Massachusetts is fourth in the nation for solar jobs, with 6,400 people currently employed in the solar industry — 42% more than in 2012.
The report also finds that the top 20 solar cities have more solar power within their city limits than was installed in the entire United States just six years ago.
"Solar energy helps build healthier and more resilient communities, and can address the energy affordability challenges created by rising energy prices," said DeWitt Jones, President of BCC Solar Energy Advantage. "Boston, along with the other cities highlighted in this report, has recognized that an investment in solar energy is an investment in the community.
Several policies and programs have helped fuel the growth of solar energy in Boston, New Bedford, and other Massachusetts cities and towns, including:
- Net metering, which allows solar panel owners to get fair credit for the power they provide back to the grid;
- A solar carve-out or solar renewable energy credit (SREC) program, which has been a primary driver of the recent solar progress;
- Programs like Solarize Massachusetts that educate the public and provide a more affordable, streamlined process for homeowners to install solar panels; and
- Programs like Renew Boston to expand access to solar for city residents.
Last June, Governor Patrick pledged that the state will get at least 1600 MW of electricity from the sun — as much electricity as used to be produced by Massachusetts’ largest coal plant — by the end of this decade. To achieve this goal, the Patrick Administration is expected to dramatically expand the SREC program later this month. The SREC II program will continue to provide support to the solar industry to ensure that Governor Patrick’s solar goal is met on time.
"Homeowners, businesses and local governments have adopted solar all across the Commonwealth, in nearly every community, from Provincetown to Williamstown," said Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia. "Governor Patrick’s new goal of 1600 megawatts will provide enough electricity to power approximately 240,000 homes annually, the equivalent of 97 percent of Boston households."
Building off of the Solarize program model, the cities of Boston and Cambridge today launched Race to Solar, a program for local non-profits and small businesses to increase the installation of solar panels and the adoption of energy efficiency measures. Through Race to Solar, organizations will be able to take advantage of a competitively priced option for installing solar power. The program will also work with local non-profits and utility companies to promote energy efficiency upgrades to small businesses in their communities.
Massachusetts recently hit a cap on the amount of net-metered power that can be installed on public buildings. The Legislature is now considering bills that would raise the cap on net metering and allow for continued solar growth. Business groups, labor unions, local governments, civic organizations, and environmental advocates are urging the legislature to expand the cap.
"It’s no accident that Boston and New Bedford helping to lead the way on solar energy — it’s because of smart policies adopted by state and local leaders," said Ben Hellerstein. "But we’ve barely scratched the surface of our solar energy potential. By committing to bold goals and expanding on the good policies we’ve adopted, we can take solar to the next level and continue Massachusetts' record of leadership."
Environment Massachusetts is a statewide, citizen-supported environmental advocacy organization, working towards a cleaner, greener, healthier future.