One of the arguments repeatedly advanced by climate change deniers in so-called “free market think tanks” is that fossil fuels and nuclear power remain the only economically viable, large scale energy sources available. As a consequence, the deniers contend, efforts to “green the economy” through the promotion and widespread use of renewable energy are wasteful and doomed to failure.
Though widely rejected by a variety of economists and scientists for years, these naysayer arguments have remained stubbornly persistent in some corners as renewables have only gradually attained the critical mass necessary to fully demonstrate their economic viability. Happily this is starting to change as the deployment of renewables — particularly photovoltaic solar cells — becomes more and more widespread.
This encouraging phenomenon is highlighted in a new report that finds that Raleigh to be one of dozens of communities leading the nation’s surge in solar power. According to a new Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center study, Raleigh ranks 15th in the country for solar projects installed per capita. The analysis, titled “Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution,” is the first-of-its-kind comparative look at the growth of solar power in major American cities.
“Raleigh is one of America’s shining cities when it comes to solar power,” said Dave Rogers, field director with Environment North Carolina, “and it has the potential to shine even brighter.”
City Councilor Russ Stephenson, public health advocates, and area small businesses, joined Environment North Carolina to release the study at the NC State solar farm, which was built with the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Brownfields to Brightfields” program.
“Raleigh’s continued success in national quality-of-life rankings is directly related to our commitment to renewable energy sources and other sustainable growth investments,” said City of Raleigh Councilor Russ Stephenson. “These innovative, 21st century investments in our economy, environment and people will keep Raleigh healthy and competitive in the long run.”
The report highlighted the benefit of solar energy including:
Solar energy helps the economy— North Carolina has 3,100 solar jobs, growing by 121% since last year.
Solar energy protects consumers— Since solar has no fuel costs, it can protect us from the rising cost of fossil fuels.
Solar energy avoids pollution—Pollution-free energy from the sun reduces air pollution that contributes to urban smog and global warming. It also helps save the massive amount of water that’s normally consumed during the cooling of fossil-fuel-burning power plants.
“Solar has come a long way in North Carolina – in 2007, our project at N.C. State was the first and largest private, grid-tied solar array in the state and this year, solar projects we develop are almost ten times that size”, said Carson Harkrader, Senior Finance Director for Carolina Solar Energy. “Because sunshine is free, our projects have 15-year power sale contracts, fixed at the current rate with no escalation, which protects electric consumers from future electricity price increases.”
“More solar power means less reliance on fossil fuels that pollute our environment and cause respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological illnesses, which is a significant public health burden,” added Gayatri Ankem, Raleigh Manager of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. “Solar energy will keep our air clean, protect our water resources, and thus improve public health.”
The report documented publicly-funded solar energy projects within city limits, such as the one at the N.C. State, as well as private installations like the one on top of the building that houses the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium.
The report also pointed to policies that encourage investment in solar PV installations, which have been already been adopted by local leaders in solar cities across the country:
- City leaders can set ambitious and achievable goals and citizens and businesses can work with local governments to meet them. Cities can lead by example by putting solar on public buildings such as EM Johnson Water Treatment Plant.
- Cities can adopt policies to advance solar power in their communities, including tax incentives, low interest loan programs and solar-friendly zoning and building codes.
- City leaders can work with state governments to ensure that they have strong programs to expand solar, including renewable energy standards, solar carve-outs or feed-in tariffs, net metering and community solar programs.
- City leaders can also demand a strong partnership with the federal government to ensure that federal incentives such as tax credits are continued. And, that federal programs, such as the Solar America’s Cities and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant programs, continue to provide support and technical assistance to cities seeking to expand solar.
“The sky’s the limit on solar energy. Raleigh is a great example of solar leadership,” said Rogers. “But, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the potential to capture this pollution-free energy source. By committing to bold goals and expanding on the good policies we’ve adopted, Raleigh can shine even brighter when it comes to solar power.”
Read the summary and/or the entire report “Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution” by clicking here.