Leading the way on solar energy

In the war against climate change, no resource must go to waste. Yet most rooftops across San Francisco lie barren and unused, soaking up the sunshine with nothing to show for it.

Today, the Board of Supervisors will vote on a policy to recruit new roofs built in The City to produce the clean, safe and inexpensive energy we so badly need. Supervisor Scott Wiener’s Better Roofs Ordinance is an innovative and important policy that will require a significant portion of the roof area on new buildings be used for solar power. If passed, San Francisco will become the first large city in the country to mandate solar power on new construction.

The ordinance will not only cut San Francisco’s carbon footprint, but will also save city residents money every month through lower electricity bills. It’s a strong compliment to the recently launched CleanPowerSF program, which will help transition San Franciscans from fossil fuel electricity to 100 percent clean energy. And it’s just the type of impactful local legislation that will set an environmental standard at the national level.

This legislation could not be more timely. Several years ago, as San Francisco environment commissioners, we authored a resolution that took note of smaller California cities, such as Lancaster and Sebastapol, that adopted requirements for solar on new construction and called for a similar policy here. Since then, solar has become even more affordable.

In the past eight years, the cost of solar has dropped by 56 percent and experts at the Department of Environment have determined that solar panels are a cost-effective option for all city roof tops. San Francisco solar companies like Sunrun and Luminalt have been at the center of a statewide solar boom, covering more than 430,000 of California roofs with solar outfits and putting more than 75,000 Californians to work in well-paying construction jobs that build a cleaner economy for our state.

The positive economic and environmental impacts of solar have never been more clear or more urgently needed. If Wiener’s Better Roofs Ordinance passes, it would result in an additional 50,000 solar panels that would save 26.3 million tons of carbon dioxide annually on new construction currently in The City’s pipeline. Trailing legislation will provide living roof alternatives to meet environmental goals when solar is infeasible, such as in the case of roofs that are or become shadowed. This legislation also has the potential to become law at the state level to require solar on all of California’s new construction.

Under Supervisor Wiener’s leadership and work with the Department of Environment, the Better Roofs Ordinance has earned the support of a broad coalition of community, business, labor and government stakeholders, including the U.S. Green Building Council, the S.F. Building Inspection Commission, the S.F. Democratic County Central Committee, Brightline Defense and affordable housing groups.

Each day serves as a reminder of the rapid changes in our climate, as Supervisor Wiener noted when the Board’s Land Use Committee unanimously approved the ordinance. San Francisco policymakers have the chance to once again demonstrate to other cities the type of expansive thinking that is required to meet the environmental challenges that we face as a society. Requiring new construction to do right by the environment and our pocketbooks is the right choice for San Francisco.

Joshua Arce and Nick Josefowitz are former San Francisco environment commissioners. Josefowitz is a clean energy entrepreneur who currently serves on the BART Board of Directors, and Arce is a civil rights attorney who last month received Vote Solar’s very first Espanola Jackson Solar Justice Award.

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