San Diego ranks 2nd for solar power in nation

Media Contacts

For Immediate Release: Friday, April 8, 11:00 AM

Contact: Michelle Kinman, 310-621-8935, [email protected]

San Diego, CA – Today, Environment California Research & Policy Center was joined in front of San Diego International Airport’s 3.3 megawatt (MW) solar installation by Mayor Kevin Faulconer, NBA legend and solar power enthusiast Bill Walton, airport officials, local renewable energy advocates and industry leaders to celebrate San Diego’s impressive solar power achievements. San Diego has more solar panels than most major American cities, ranking 2nd nationwide—for the third year in a row—among dozens of metropolitan areas analyzed in a new report.

“Thanks to its forward-thinking programs and leaders like Mayor Faulconer, San Diego really shines when it comes to solar power,” said Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate with Environment California Research & Policy Center.

Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix topped the list for most solar power in the Environment California Research & Policy Center analysis, Shining Cities 2016: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America.

Plummeting costs, increasing public concern over global warming, and technological innovation have all played a role in spurring the growth of solar energy, which last year was enough to power 5.4 million American homes.

As population centers, cities are home to ample rooftop space and large electricity markets. Through power purchase agreements, promoting community solar programs, and installing solar on government property, city governments can play a leading role in developing solar energy.

According to researchers who examined solar power installations in 64 American cities in nearly every state, San Diego had enough solar capacity at the end of last year to power about 47,000 homes.

On a solar-per-person basis, San Diego also scored well, ranking 4th behind Honolulu, Indianapolis and San Jose.

“San Diego continues to lead the way in solar energy and remains a shining example to other cities when it comes to improving our environment through innovation,” Mayor Faulconer said. “Increasing solar energy will help reach our goal of 100 percent renewable energy use in the city by 2035 – a key element of San Diego’s landmark Climate Action Plan.”

In December 2015, the city of San Diego became the largest American municipality to adopt a legal commitment to transition to 100 percent renewable energy, including solar power, by 2035. This initiative builds upon state level policy passed in the fall of 2015 committing California to achieve 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

“Rooftop solar is key to San Diego achieving a 100 percent clean energy future,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign. “In fact, rooftop solar will contribute nearly 20 percent of that goal. We can’t get there without it. Thus, we support any and all policies and programs to let the sun shine through and let solar beam from every rooftop and parking lot possible throughout our region.”

San Diego International Airport, which hosted today’s event, is enjoying the benefits of its new 3.3 MW solar panel system, which is expected to save up to $8 million in energy costs over the course of the 20-year power purchase agreement with NRG, the owner of the system, which enabled the Airport Authority to go solar with no upfront cost. It is estimated that the solar energy system will avert more than 3,700 metric tons of carbon pollution annually, the equivalent of taking 770 cars off the road each year. 

“The Airport Authority is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the City of San Diego in our collective efforts to create a sustainable solar energy future,” said April Boling, Incoming Board Chair, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. “At San Diego International Airport, sustainability goes beyond green initiatives, to building an enduring enterprise for generations to come.”

The report finds that San Diego’s installed solar capacity has grown 26 percent over the past year, a demonstration of the growth experienced by many of the area’s solar companies.

“Growing up in San Diego and then returning to establish Borrego Solar’s headquarters here, I’ve had a front row seat in seeing the city transform into the clean energy leader it is today,” said Aaron Hall, president of Borrego Solar. “But the road to get here was not without its challenges. Thankfully, just as San Diego International Airport has, thousands of energy users throughout the region realized that the better—cleaner—way to power our lives is with the sun. A lot has changed since Borrego Solar was founded more than 35 years ago. Solar is no longer a fringe technology, but a viable, cost effective energy solution making a significant impact on the modernization of our nation’s energy supply—and the Shining Cities report confirms that.” 

“We’re proud to have the opportunity to work with the San Diego Airport and provide renewable energy solutions to a region that is home to more than 120 NRG employees who play key contributing roles in our renewable energy business,” said Craig Cornelius, Senior Vice President and head of Renewables, NRG. “This project is a significant next step in our expansion of an already substantial 1,700 megawatt-fleet of renewable energy projects that we hold throughout California.” 

Innovative state policies like the California Solar Initiative helped make the airport project possible, by offering up a performance based incentive of 3.2 cents per kilowatt hour of energy produced for the first five years the project is in operation.

While solar power is growing in California and throughout the nation, utility companies are campaigning intensely roll back key solar policies and to increase fees for rooftop solar, which they see as a direct threat to their business model. In January 2016, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted to preserve the state’s cornerstone solar policy, net metering, rejecting utility proposals to end the policy that gives Californians the opportunity to generate their own energy with solar power. The decision reflected the more than 150,000 petitions received by the Commission from Californians supporting net metering, a historic level of public engagement at the CPUC.

“Cities have been at the forefront of environmental change for decades,” said Kinman. “And there’s no reason for them to stop now. The polluters can’t change the fact that solar power makes sense for our climate, our health, and our wallets.”

Top 20 Solar Cities by Total Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2015


Environment California Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.