The amount of solar energy installed in the U.S. has increased 200-fold since 2002, and cities are playing a critical role, according to a new report from Environment America. The report, ‘Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution,’ a first-of-its-kind comparative look at the growth of solar power in major American cities.
The report found that the top 20 cities contain more solar power today than was installed nation-wide just six years ago and are responsible for 7 percent of the nation’s solar capacity, yet represent just 0.1 percent of the nation’s land area.
“Across the country, mayors and local officials are joining forces with countless solar champions working to shift America to clean, renewable energy,” said Rob Sargent, energy program director for Environment America.
The cities with the most installed solar capacity are Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix. Cities from all over the country were in the top 20 with most solar capacity, including Portland, Oregon, New York, Newark, New Jersey, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Boston, Massachusetts. For solar installed per capita, Honolulu ranked number one, and Wilmington, Delaware and New Orleans all ranked in the top 10.
“Solar power is growing much faster than many would have imagined, thanks in great part to local officials who have recognized the environmental and economic benefits,” said Sargent. “Because it is pollution-free and has no fuel costs, we should be shooting for the moon in tapping the energy from the sun.”
The report highlighted the benefits of solar energy, including:
Solar energy avoids pollution—Pollution-free energy from the sun reduces air pollution that contributes to urban smog and global warming. It also helps save the massive amount of water that’s normally consumed during the cooling of fossil-fuel-burning 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— Solar industry employment grew 10 times faster than the national average growth in employment in 2013 and employed 142,000 Americans as of November 2013.
The top 20 cities have a total installed solar PV capacity of over 890 MW and are located in almost every region of the U.S.
The report was released alongside a simple factsheet of 10 things cities can do to become solar leaders including committing to ambitious goals, working with local utilities, and reducing red tape.
Solar energy has succeeded because of a strong partnership between local, state and federal officials and a growing commitment from citizens, businesses, and organizations to meet our energy needs with clean, renewable energy. State programs, such as net-metering and renewable energy standards that include solar, along with federal tax incentives and programs like the Department of Energy’s Solar Outreach Partnership (SolarOPS) and Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECB), are major factors in solar growth in cities.
“The sky’s the limit on solar energy and we’ve still barely scratched the surface of our potential to capture this pollution-free energy source, Sargent concluded. “By committing to bold goals and building on the policies that have worked, we can take solar to the next level.”
Mayors joined Environment America’s state-based organizations in releasing their new report in a number of cities across the country. Below are quotes from Mayors across the nation.
What U.S. mayors are saying about solar
Columbus, Ohio – Mayor Michael Coleman
"We are proud to host Environment Ohio's release of "Shining Cities" report at our Fleet Management Facility. This site is home to the largest municipal roof mounted solar energy system in all of Ohio. Not only are the panels producing green power, they are also saving the City money. Our electric bills are 18% lower than in previous years.”
Honolulu, Hawaii – Mayor Kirk Caldwell
“Environment America’s study is great news for the people of Honolulu, and it’s only the beginning as we strive to aggressively transition to a green, sustainable energy system. Our city is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the nation when it comes to PV capacity per capita and an excellent example of how the state, city, and private sector can work together for the benefit of all. We will continue to work together and explore emerging technologies and innovative policy solutions to bring down costs, protect our natural beauty, and keep our energy dollars here in Hawaii.”
Los Angeles, California – Mayor Eric Garcetti
“And there’s more good news. Los Angeles is number one in the nation in installed solar panels and number one in energy star-certified buildings. Now, we have to raise our game. By 2020, I will make sure that renewables will account for a third of our energy and we will continue our march off of coal.”
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Mayor Tom Barrett
“Solar is clean, it’s local, and it’s a symbol of the direction Milwaukee is headed,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “By ramping up solar, we can reduce pollution, while creating local jobs in our communities.”
New Bedford, Massachusetts - Mayor Jon Mitchell
“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. 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.”
Portland, Oregon- Mayor Charlie Hales
“Solar energy is an important part of the City’s overall strategy to protect the climate and reduce carbon emissions. It's a pollution-free energy source with no fuel costs. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has helped demonstrate what’s possible at the local level with great programs like Solarize Portland and Solar Forward, but there’s much more to be done.”
San Antonio – Mayor Julian Castro
"This recognition demonstrates that San Antonio is making progress in becoming a leader in the New Energy Economy."
San Diego - Mayor Kevin Faulconer
“As a pollution-free energy source with no fuel costs, solar energy can help us to meet many of our city’s environmental and economic goals. It makes perfect sense for San Diego, one of the sunniest cities in the country, to lead the way in solar energy.”
San Jose, California – Mayor Chuck Reed
“Going solar isn’t just good for the planet. It’s also an excellent investment. San Jose is pleased to be recognized for its solar efforts. Since adopting our Green Vision in 2007, San Jose has become a national leader in solar installations, including putting solar on city buildings to save taxpayer dollars and energy.”
Santa Fe, New Mexico – Mayor Javier M. Gonzales
“New Mexico is a state blessed with world-class renewable energy resources. The City of Santa Fe is a leading the way by continuing to expand its use of solar energy. Nearly 25 percent of the of the City Government’s electricity will be generated by renewable energy systems located in Santa Fe.”
Wilmington, Delaware – Mayor Dennis Williams
“The substantial increase in the City of Wilmington’s solar power usage reflects our community’s strong commitment to integrating solar technology across a variety of platforms. Expanding our use of solar and other renewable energy sources will positively impact public health and environmental quality, strengthen the economy and develop more reliable energy sources.”