Portland has more solar panels than most major American cities, ranking 18th among dozens of metropolitan areas analyzed in a new report. The Rose City’s place, just behind Newark and ahead of Boston, was owed largely to the city’s early pioneering of “Solarize” programs and strong leadership from Mayor Charlie Hales, advocates said today.
Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix topped the list for most solar power in the Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center analysis, Shining Cities 2016: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America. Regionally, Portland remained ahead of Seattle, which received a ranking of 23rd in the report.
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.
The report found cities at the vanguard of the nation’s solar boom, with the top 20 solar cities – representing just 0.1 percent of U.S. land area – accounting for 6 percent of U.S. solar photovoltaic capacity at the end of 2015.
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.
The City of Portland, for example, nationally pioneered the “Solarize” program model in 2009 to boost solar power installations. Solarize programs involve a community working together to streamline the process of going solar and, at the same time, bring down the overall cost of installations through volume discounts from solar installers. From 2009 and 2011, six “Solarize Portland” campaigns supported by the City added 1.7 MW of solar power on 560 homes. In 2010 alone, the number of total photovoltaic solar installations was almost 400% over the previous year.
Initiatives like Solarize have been buoyed by state level policy, like this year’s passage of a bill to eliminate coal from Oregon’s electricity mix, double renewable energy, and establish a community solar program for Oregon. This law, signed by Governor Brown last month, passed with bipartisan support and with the support of Oregon’s largest utility companies.
“We know here in Portland that clean power means clean air, a healthy planet, and a strong economy,” said Rikki Seguin, state director of Environment Oregon. “We can expect the City of Portland to continue to lead on clean energy, especially as we continue to implement new policies like community solar that allow more Oregonians to go solar.”
After giving his final State of the City address at the end of March, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales tweeted about the City’s intent to participate in a community solar program, tweeting: “Launch our first community solar project at a site near the Bull Run Reservoir #solar #climateaction #SOTC16”
According to researchers who examined solar power installations in 64 American cities in nearly every state, Portland had enough solar capacity at the end of last year to power about 2,200 homes.
Environment Oregon is urging other Oregon cities to move forward with solar power development, and is currently working in Lincoln County and the cities of Milwaukie, Lake Oswego, Corvallis, Ashland, and Eugene to set solar installation targets and launch local Solarize programs.
“Cities have been at the forefront of environmental change for decades,” said Seguin. “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.”
Read the report here.