Cities are quickly setting aggressive sustainability targets and embracing solar energy, and these efforts have created a catalyst for the recent increase in solar electricity production across the U.S., and the country’s clean energy transformation.
Solar has become very affordable thanks to federal incentives, demand for solar developers, sustainability programs, and technological advancements. Due to this affordability, as well as policies and energy targets, solar power capacity has more than doubled in 45 of America’s 57 largest cities in the last six years, according to a study by the non-profit, Environment America Research & Policy Center.
In certain places, solar is now the least expensive form of energy available, but what is truly driving the difference between cities that are leading on solar energy and those that are lagging is successful public policy – at the state and local levels.
One example of a city leading a way in local policy, in a state without public policy, is the City of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Fayetteville has been leading the way in progressive energy policies in the natural state when they made the commitment to achieve a 100 percent renewable energy use at the city level by 2030.
In 2019, the city began fully powering its wastewater treatment plants from solar energy harnessed from two 5-megawatt systems. The city expects to save $6 million in electrical costs over the lifetime of the system via a 20-year solar power services agreement for the power produced by the two arrays at a price 3/10th lower than if purchased directly from the grid.
With solar becoming a major part of city governments’ energy policies as a result of these technical advancements and low prices, we are even seeing more and more solar powered cities in the Natural State.
This project triggered several other cities to look at renewable energy as a viable cost-saving and environmentally friendly resource.
According to Mayor Daniel Rogers of the City of Paris, “I view using green energy as an economic development tool. Companies are looking for communities that care about using green energy.”
Saving approximately $65,000 annually with a 1.5 megawatt solar system, the City of Paris has been solar powered since July, 2020. Now, nearly 70 percent of the power that Paris uses comes from hydroelectricity and solar energy.
Though very beneficial, ambitious energy transitions aren’t always simple and straightforward. Transitioning to renewable energy takes time to ensure that the city’s infrastructure will be able to profit fully from the change, and requires a lot of collaboration among various stakeholders.
Having local government leaders, an electric utility provider, and a solar developer to collaborate can be difficult in some cities, but if you’re a city leader, it’s a good idea to start talking about solar with your electric utility as soon as possible.
The City of Fayetteville‘s project is a great example of collaboration with Ozarks Electric, a nonprofit electric cooperative that serves Fayetteville and the surrounding areas. After learning about the city’s environmental targets, the electric cooperative approached the city with a solar initiative.
Depending on how involved you choose to be in the maintenance and operation, cities can choose to own or simply purchase the energy from the systems themselves through Solar Power Service Agreements (SPSA).
Third party financing and growing popularity of SPSAs have allowed non-taxable entities, like cities, to take advantage of federal tax incentives and low-cost solar power without the responsibility of operating and maintaining the system.
Recently, House lawmakers introduced the Growing Renewable Energy and Efficiency Now Act (the GREEN Act of 2021), a version of which passed the House in July 2020 under the prior Congress. The GREEN Act of 2021 would significantly extend and expand certain federal tax incentives for clean energy technology, specifically reverting to the 30% investment tax credit (ITC) for solar projects beginning construction through 2025, with step-downs to 26% (2026), 22% (2027) and 10% thereafter. The act would also expand the 30% ITC available to energy storage technologies.