San Francisco Becomes First Major U.S. City To Mandate Solar On New Buildings


On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed legislation to require that solar panels be installed on new small and midsize residential and commercial buildings constructed in the city.

Supervisor Scott Wiener first proposed the ordinance in February, and although a few other cities – such as Lancaster, Calif. – have instituted similar requirements, Weiner says this legislation makes San Francisco the first major city in the U.S. to pass such a mandate. According to him, the ordinance will help move San Francisco toward its goal of meeting 100% of the city’s electricity demand with renewable energy.

“By increasing our use of solar power, San Francisco is once again leading the nation in the fight against climate change and the reduction of our reliance on fossil fuels,” comments Wiener. “Activating underutilized roof space is a smart and efficient way to promote the use of solar energy and improve our environment. We need to continue to pursue aggressive renewable energy policies to ensure a sustainable future for our city and our region.”

Under existing state law, all new residential and commercial buildings up to 10 stories tall must have 15% of their roof area be “solar ready,” meaning unshaded and free of obtrusions.

Wiener says his new ordinance builds on the state law by now mandating that solar actually be installed on the 15% of “solar ready” roof area of new small and midsize buildings starting in 2017. That can include either solar photovoltaic or solar water installations.

According to Wiener, the legislation has the support of the San Francisco Commission on the Environment, the U.S. Green Buildings Council, the Building Inspection Commission and nonprofit Brightline Defense.

Another big supporter is the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), though the organization suggests that more work still needs to be done around the state to help keep solar thriving, including protecting solar-friendly policies.

“We applaud San Francisco for its environmental leadership and commitment to rooftop solar energy, in particular. Solar panels were designed with roofs in mind, and integrating this technology into our built environment is a no-brainer for our sun-filled and energy-intensive cities,” says Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of CALSEIA. “However, issues like net energy metering remain the foundation of any successful effort to promote rooftop solar. If utilities have their way, and net energy metering is taken away from consumers in the years ahead, consumers will be hurt as well as initiatives like San Francisco’s 100 percent renewable energy goals.”

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