Cindy Chew/2009 S.F. Examiner file photoSan Francisco officials are contemplating making solar-energy systems mandatory for new development projects.

San Francisco could explore possibility of mandating solar systems on developments

After two smaller California cities mandated that new developments install solar-energy systems, San Francisco officials are beginning to discuss a similar requirement.

The effort could build on The City’s 2008 Green Building Ordinance and also advance the goal of ensuring 100 percent of San Francisco’s electricity needs come from renewable sources.

“I think that requiring solar panels on new development is a great way to help green our city and create more good-paying clean-energy jobs for San Franciscans,” said Joshua Arce, chairman of the Commission on the Environment.

At an upcoming meeting, Arce intends to ask the commission, which sets policy direction for the Board of Supervisors, to recommend The City adopt a solar installation mandate.

Reserving judgment, board President David Chiu called it an “intriguing idea” and welcomed the conversation to determine if it was something that made sense for The City.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesman Tyrone Jue praised the two cities, Sebastopol and Lancaster, that pioneered the concept, but noted San Francisco “already has one of the most comprehensive green building ordinances in the nation.” The local law provides a number of options for developers to meet certain environmental standards for things like energy and stormwater reuse.

“Especially in a dense urban city like San Francisco, sometimes it is preferable to not have a one-size-fits-all mandate,” Jue said.

But Arce said solar installations are important to “reduce demand for dirty fossil-fuel energy that typically pollutes low-income communities of color.”

Since 2008, the utilities agency has provided incentives for solar installations under its GoSolarSF program. And while Arce and other backers of the program have clashed with agency officials over funding, both hail it as a success.

The incentives have almost doubled the amount of residential and nonresidential solar-energy systems, Jue said. According to the SFPUC, there are currently 3,524 solar panel systems on residences and 202 in commercial buildings generating a combined 15 megawatts of power.

Arce said the mandate could work well with the incentive program.

“With a fully funded GoSolarSF program, no one could ever claim this was an unfunded mandate,” Arce said.

Eric Brooks, an organizer for Our City, a nonprofit advocacy group, called the solar mandate “a great idea.” He lamented the fact that after more than 10 years of planning, the SFPUC’s commission blocked the launch of CleanPowerSF, a community-choice aggregation program that Brooks said could help finance these sorts of renewable-energy initiatives.

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