Just a few years ago, it was rare to see solar panels on the roof of a home or business. Now, it seems like solar panels are popping up everywhere.
With a rapid decrease in the cost of going solar in the last few years, the question is no longer “Should we put solar panels on our homes and businesses?” Rather, we should ask ourselves, “How quickly can we put solar panels on every available rooftop in Massachusetts?”
That’s the question posed by Representative Mike Connolly, Representative Jack Lewis, and Senator Jamie Eldridge, who recently filed a bill that would require the installation of solar panels on newly constructed homes and businesses in Massachusetts.
In a world facing so many environmental challenges — from polluted air and water to a rapidly changing climate — we should tap into our local renewable energy resources to create a cleaner, healthier, safer future.
Our roofs provide an ideal opportunity to increase clean energy generation. According to a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, rooftop solar could generate up to 47 percent of the electricity Massachusetts consumes on a yearly basis.
The most efficient, least expensive time to install solar panels is when a home or business is being built and workers are already on the roof. Once installed, these solar panels will help residents and business owners reduce their electricity costs.
In fact, solar energy helps to keep utility bills under control for everyone, even people who don’t have solar on their roofs. Solar panels are most productive during summer days when demand on the grid is often highest and electricity prices are elevated. By providing energy during these times of peak demand, houses with solar panels can reduce the cost of electricity for all of us. Generating our electricity from local solar panels also helps avoid expensive investments in transmission lines and other infrastructure.
Last year, California became the first state in the country to adopt a policy requiring all new homes to be built with solar panels. A recent report published by Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center found that implementing a solar roof policy similar to California’s would double the current amount of solar energy in Massachusetts by 2045.
A policy like this is urgently needed because our reliance on dirty fossil fuels for energy is polluting our air and water, harming our health, and changing our climate.
In 2016, the Boston metropolitan area experienced 32 days of degraded air quality, increasing the risk of asthma, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Air pollution is even worse in other parts of the state: Springfield-area residents saw 52 “dirty air days.”
The impacts of climate change are becoming more and more difficult to ignore as well. Last winter, Massachusetts’ coastal communities were hit by a series of extreme storms, causing record flooding and major damage to homes and businesses.
Fortunately, we have alternatives. We can envision a future where 100 percent of the energy to power our electric grid, our homes, and our transportation system comes from renewable, pollution-free sources. The solar industry is ready to rise to this challenge, while supporting thousands of jobs in communities across Massachusetts.
State officials should act quickly to adopt Representative Connolly, Representative Lewis, and Senator Eldridge’s solar roofs bill. This legislation would require the installation of solar panels on new homes, apartments, and commercial buildings as they are built. The bill allows exemptions for buildings that don’t have sufficient sun exposure or that use other types of renewable energy technologies.
Local communities can also take action toward a solar-powered future. Watertown recently became the first municipality in Massachusetts to require rooftop solar panels on some new buildings.
By tapping into the power of the sun, Massachusetts can protect the environment and do our part to address climate change, while strengthening our local economy. Putting solar panels on all new homes and businesses would be a good first step to take.
– Ben Hellerstein is state director for Environment Massachusetts, the statewide environmental advocacy organization. Mark Sylvia is president of SEBANE (the Solar Energy Business Association of New England) and managing director of civic engagement at BlueWave Solar.