San Francisco’s New Rooftop Law

Via Clean Technica, a report on San Francisco’s new rooftop solar law:

The City of San Francisco has just become the first major US city to require new buildings to be constructed with solar panels or solar thermal water heaters. If that sounds like putting the cart before the horse in terms of building design, it’s not. The new regulation dovetails with an existing state law that already requires new buildings of 10 stories or less to be designed with “solar-ready” roof areas of at least 15%.

San Francisco solar law

San Francisco Solar

San Francisco is living proof of a recent finding by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which showed that cities can meet the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan goalswithout an assist from state-level policy. According to NREL, cities can still drive the transition to solar and other forms of renewable energy even in states where policymakers are working in the opposite direction.

California happens to be among the most solar-friendly states in the entire country, and it looks like San Francisco isn’t the only municipality to coat-tail on state solar policy. The city of Sebastopol, for example, has a solar requirement for both residential and commercial new construction.

Even city-level Republican leadership has hopped aboard the clean power bandwagon (national clean power leadership is a whole ‘nother can of worms for the party). Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris signed and spearheaded the first solar requirement for new residential buildings, and has vowed to make his city the “Alternative Energy Capital of the World.”

He’s got his work cut out for him. Former Mayor Gavin Newsom and current Mayor Ed Lee have both promoted a 100% clean power goal for San Francisco by 2030.

 San Francisco Rooftop Solar

The statewide solar-ready requirement for new construction was imposed after surveys showed that most existing buildings cannot accommodate solar panels. In San Francisco, for example, only 30% of existing buildings in the city are suitable for a rooftop solar installation. The new law did not include a requirement to actually install the equipment, just to set aside a “solar zone” free of shade or other obstructions.

The new city ordinance puts real teeth into that measure. Like the state law, it also includes some degree of flexibility. Buildings that are constructed with parking lots, for example, can meet the requirement by installing solar canopies. Other covered areas on the property can also be used.

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener pushed for the new solar legislation, and in a statement yesterday he underscored the power of cities to be engines of change:

“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…We need to continue to pursue aggressive renewable energy policies to ensure a sustainable future for our city and our region.”

According to our friends over at the Solar Tribune, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors may also add a living roof option to the new solar requirement, which would give building designers more flexibility. Living roofs also help meet the city’s clean power goals by providing insulation for the building and helping to reduce the “heat island” effect in warm weather.

What About The 99%?

The new law takes effect next year and will affect about 200 buildings that are currently in the pipeline.

Those of you familiar with San Francisco may be wondering what impact it will have on affordable housing in the city.

Power purchase agreements make it possible to install solar panels with no money up front, so simply adding solar to a building would not necessarily increase costs. And, since state law already requires a solar set-aside, the city ordinance does not impose new design burdens.

According to Wiener’s press release, the Board of Supervisors approved the new law unanimously with the support of, among others, an environmental justice organization that works with disadvantaged communities called the Brightline Defense Project.

Brightline is firmly behind rooftop solar. Last year, the organization partnered with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) to commission a statewide poll that showed overwhelming support for rooftop solar. In a press release announcing the findings, Executive Director Eddie Ahn drew the connection between clean power and new jobs:

“With the right policymaking, rooftop solar does more than allow customers to reduce their monthly utility bills; it can also benefit low-income customers while creating good jobs and reducing the effects of climate change. Brightline will continue to champion more solar for everyone in the future.”

The Energy Department is also working with startups and other stakeholders to solar improve financing and develop other ways to accelerate the adoption of solar, while helping to ensure that low income communities can get a full share of the new clean power landscape.


This entry was posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2016 at 1:37 pm and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
As potential uses for building and parking lot roofspace continue to grow, unique opportunities to understand and profit from this trend will emerge. Roof Options is committed to tracking the evolving uses of roof estate – spanning solar power, rainwater harvesting, wind power, gardens & farms, “cooling” sites, advertising, apiculture, and telecom transmission platforms – to help unlock the nascent, complex, and expanding roofspace asset class.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy. Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation. He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”