New report highlights solar energy in Providence and other U.S. cities

Media Contacts
Channing Jones

Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center

Providence–– With concern growing about the Rhode Island economy’s dependence on out-of-state fossil fuels––and the associated environmental and public health consequences of dirty air and global warming pollution––Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center released a new report on Wednesday, Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution. The report provides a first-of-its-kind comparative look at the growth of solar power in major American cities. The report rates Providence a “Solar Beginner”––#39 out of 57 cities ranked.

“State policy will play a key role in turning Providence into a leading solar city,” said Channing Jones, Campaign Director with Environment Rhode Island. “With the cost of solar coming down, there’s growing support for solar power as a mainstream energy solution with widespread benefits for our health, our economy, and the environment.”

The report also 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 jobs in Rhode Island grew 62% last year.

“To build a more sustainable future for our city, we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Councilman Seth Yurdin, who represents Providence’s First Ward on the City Council. “Promoting clean, safe, and renewable energy sources, like solar power, will both improve our environment and create new economic activity here in Providence.”

With more than 200 times as much solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed in the U.S. today compared to 2002, much of that growth has come in America’s cities. The new Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center report takes principal cities from the thirty-eight states shown to have installed more than a negligible amount of solar energy (>1.5 MW) and compares the capacity of all solar PV installations within the city limits of the fifty-seven chosen cities as of the end of 2013. Los Angeles, CA ranks first nationally in total installed solar PV, with 132 megawatts, while Honolulu, HI ranks first in per capita solar, with 265 watts installed per person. Providence compares with 4 watts per person.

The report comes as state lawmakers consider legislation to expand renewable energy in Rhode Island with the Distributed Generation Growth bill (H7727/S2690), which would quintuple the size of Rhode Island’s cornerstone renewable energy program. The distributed generation (DG) program allows renewable energy projects to be built in Rhode Island and connected to the grid; since becoming law in 2011, the DG program has been responsible for important renewable energy projects across the state, including 28 new projects for solar and two for wind power. The proposed legislation would add a new 160 megawatts in coming years to the program’s current 40 megawatts.

“There’s no reason for Providence to remain a Solar Beginner,” said Priscilla De La Cruz, Marketing and Membership Director with People’s Power & Light, a Providence-based renewable energy advocacy group. “We need to pass the Distributed Generation Growth bill and jump up the list of Solar Cities.”

“In addition to boosting solar installations within the city and across Rhode Island, we believe the DG bill will allow us to hire more employees as the industry picks up,” added Eric Beecher, owner of Sol Power, a Providence-based solar installation company.

With the current DG program set to expire in 2014, Rhode Island lawmakers face an opportunity to build on the recent success with an ambitiously expanded program. In addition to adding 160 megawatts to the program, the Distributed Generation Growth bill––sponsored by Rep. Ruggiero (Jamestown) in the House and Sen. Sosnowski (South Kingstown) in the Senate––creates a new class for residential-scale solar projects, allowing individual property owners to collect an incentive for producing renewable energy.

The “Shining Cities” report also pointed to other policies that encourage investment in solar PV installations, which have been adopted by local leaders in solar cities:

•    City leaders can set ambitious and achievable goals, and citizens and businesses can work with local governments to meet them.  Cities can lead by example by putting solar on public buildings.
•    Cities can adopt policies to advance solar power in their communities, including tax incentives, low interest loan programs, and solar-friendly zoning and building codes.  Cities can also run “Solarize” programs that use bulk purchasing and educational campaigns to help neighbors “go solar” together.
•    City leaders can work with state governments to ensure that they have strong programs to expand solar, including renewable energy standards, solar carve-outs or feed-in tariffs, net metering, and community solar programs.
•    City leaders can also demand a strong partnership with the federal government to ensure that federal incentives such as tax credits are continued.

“Solar power is booming across the country and cities are at the forefront,” said Jones. “The progress we are seeing in Providence and around the country should give us the confidence we can do more.”