Go Solar

Goal: Ask 50 cities to go big on solar and defend our local and state progress.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory Photo
Fortunately, more Americans are going solar every day. By 2017, our country had enough solar energy capacity installed to power the equivalent of 9 million homes.

Yet we’re still not even close to reaching solar’s potential. Every year enough sunlight shines on America to provide 100 times more power than we need. We’re capturing a tiny percentage of it. Harnessing more of this power would mean cleaner air and a more stable climate; less strain on natural resources and more resilient communities; and an energy source we can depend on to be virtually pollution-free for as long as we can imagine.

So what’s slowing us down? What, if anything, can stop us?

In some places, we’re thinking too small, failing to update policies that would encourage even more Americans to go solar. In other places, we’re thinking too narrowly, putting the short-term interests of old industries with outdated business models ahead of our health, environment and wellbeing.

Shining Cities

Cities are primary drivers of the growth in solar in America. In 2016, just 20 U.S. cities had as much solar power capacity installed as the entire country did six years earlier.

Los Angeles / zhu difeng via Shutterstock.com

The cities that set higher goals, ensure homeowners receive a fair price for the solar energy they supply to the grid, make installing panels hassle-free, and provide attractive financing options are generating more solar than similar cities.

That’s why our Shining Cities project is urging 50 cities, including Las Cruces, N.M., and Tempe, Ariz., to think bigger, act smarter, and tap the sun for more power. For example, our state and local advocates, members and activists are:

  • backing a strong solar energy goal in Las Cruces and other cities in New Mexico, building on our successful 2016 effort to commit Albuquerque to getting 25 percent of the city government’s electricity from solar power, and
  • urging Tempe to increase the city’s renewable energy goal, a 20 percent by 2025 commitment we helped persuade the city to set in 2014. Tempe is already ahead of schedule, so we’re encouraging the city to set a 100 percent renewable energy goal that promotes more local solar power.

Of course every mayor wants her city to be the best, especially when it comes to something with the kind of broad transpartisan support that solar enjoys. So we’re encouraging mayors to run a race to the top on solar by comparing the growth of solar city by city, and showcasing the results through the news media and on social media.

Even as we make the case for solar on environmental grounds, we’re bringing together a broad coalition that can offer a variety of reasons to persuade local officials to act — from “Green Tea Party” activists in Georgia who want “energy freedom” to solar installers in Arizona who want green jobs, from low-income communities in Massachusetts who want cleaner air to business owners in Colorado who want to power their breweries and cafes with solar.

Together, we’re building on the pro-solar policies we’ve already won in California, Massachusetts and 10 other states and Atlanta, San Diego, Albuquerque and more than a dozen other cities — from California’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative to some of the nation’s first solar tax credits in the 1970s. Past successes are is making it possible for cities to aim higher now. What seemed wildly ambitious yesterday is now absolutely possible.

Yet with a president and Congress who range from hostile to indifferent in their attitudes toward solar power, it’s more important than ever that we act locally on solar.

Stand up for solar

Every great technological advance disrupts one or more existing industries, and solar is no exception.

A few utilities, including Green Mountain Power in Vermont, have embraced solar, retooling their business models around a grid with thousands of homes generating power as well as consuming it. Unfortunately, others have been less forward-thinking. Threatened by the growth of an energy source that requires less capital investment but smarter distribution, many electric utilities and their trade associations are pushing to roll back the policies that have enabled and encouraged solar’s growth. Fossil fuel interests, including the Koch brothers, have also lobbied regulators and others to weaken or dismantle these policies.

Dan Jacobson, Environment California

We’re urging officials in 20 states to resist these efforts and reject attempts to make it harder for more Americans to go solar.

  • In Texas, we’re urging the Public Utility Commission to reject El Paso Electric’s plans to place solar customers in a separate rate class and assess special charges and fees on their bills.
  • In Arizona, we’re opposing plans by Arizona Public Service and others to invest in fossil fuels over renewable energy, as well as charges for solar customers from Salt River Project that hamper rooftop solar growth.
  • In Florida, we’re urging regulators and local officials to reject rollbacks in rooftop solar policy.

We’re countering misinformation with facts, including data showing how solar’s benefits to utilities and their customers outweigh the costs of pro-solar incentives. As in our Shining Cities project, we’re putting the environment first while bringing together leaders from an array of fields.

America still has a chance to lead on solar, even with Donald Trump in the White House. But only if we sweep past the special interests that are clinging to the business models of the past.


We need solar panels installed on every rooftop we can. But with a problem this big, of course we need to do more.

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