Boston — Boston has more solar energy per capita than most other major cities in the Northeast, besting New York and Philadelphia by a wide margin in a new report released today by the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center.
“It’s a bright day for solar power in Boston,” said Ben Hellerstein, Campaign Organizer with Environment Massachusetts. “For years, state and city officials have championed the growth of solar energy. 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, 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 like Houston, Miami, and Tampa.
Solar energy has grown by an average of 127% per year in Massachusetts over the last three years, reducing global warming emissions and curbing other forms of harmful air pollution. In 2014, Massachusetts installed enough solar capacity to power 50,000 homes with clean energy.
Through its Renew Boston Solar program, the City of Boston has made it easier and cheaper for residents, businesses, and organizations to go solar, with a goal of installing an additional 10 MW 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 a state-of-the-art solar map in partnership with Mapdwell, a Boston-based M.I.T. spin-off. This map, available at Mapdwell.com/Boston, 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 GW (gigawatts) of solar power.
”With some of the best incentives in the country, solar makes sense in Boston,” said Austin Blackmon, Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space for the City of Boston. “Mayor Walsh encourages Bostonians to consider solar to save money on their energy bills and help Boston reach its Greenovate Boston Climate Action Plan goals.”
Strong state-level solar policies have also played an important role in fostering the growth of solar energy in Boston and across Massachusetts.
Massachusetts’ net metering policy allows solar panel owners to receive fair compensation for the electricity they provide to the grid. 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 recently installed rooftop solar panels, thanks to Massachusetts’ strong community shared solar policies.
“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 (CSNDC). “Our LEED Silver Certified residential development, the Levedo Building, generates about 25% of its total electric consumption from a rooftop solar installation, and we’re exploring options for a Community Shared Solar program that would bring the benefits of solar to even more residents in the neighborhood and help address equity concerns.”
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.
Earlier this month, more than 120 supporters of solar energy — including low-income advocates, business leaders, public health advocates, environmental activists, and others — gathered at the State House asking state officials to take immediate action to raise the net metering caps.
Solar supporters also delivered letters signed by more than 350 city and town officials and more than 560 small business leaders asking Governor Charlie Baker to set a goal of getting 20% of Massachusetts’ electricity from solar by 2025.
“We’re proud that Boston Community Capital has played an important role in expanding access to solar in Massachusetts and bringing the benefits of solar energy to low-income communities in Boston,” said Emily Rochon, Director of Energy and Environmental Policy for Boston Community Capital. “State officials should act quickly to raise net metering caps, which have already been reached in 171 communities, and support a long-term solar policy framework to keep solar working for Massachusetts for years to come.”
Massachusetts’ solar industry now supports more than 12,000 jobs. More people work in the solar industry in Massachusetts than in any other state except California.
“Thanks to leadership from the City of Boston and from state officials, solar energy is booming,” said Ben Hellerstein. “Now it’s time to take solar to the next level — and with continued support, we can get at least 20% of our electricity from solar power within the next ten years.”