San Francisco to require rooftop solar installations on new buildings

San Francisco became Tuesday the first large city in California to mandate solar installations on new buildings, following the lead of the smaller municipalities Lancaster and Sebastopol which passed similar mandates in 2013.

Beginning January, new commercial and residential buildings of up to 10 stories in height will have to install rooftop solar systems for heat or electricity under legislation unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors.

The legislation, introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener, builds on San Francisco’s environmental efforts like the imminent launch of a renewable energy program, known as CleanPowerSF, later this year.

In an era when we are reminded daily of our rapidly changing climate, it is so important that we continue our strong push to alternative, non-fossil fuel energies,” Wiener said. “Solar energy is a key part of our move to a clean energy future.”

San Francisco has climate goals to achieve zero waste going to the landfill, 50 percent of all trips taken by an alternative to a private automobile such as by bus or bicycle and 100 percent of energy used from renewable energy by 2025.

Barry Hooper, the Department of Environment Green Building Coordinator, said last week “that 100 percent renewable energy depends on both development of renewable energy resources and continued improvement in energy efficiency.”

This ordinance represents one more straightforward and pragmatic step toward that goal,” Hooper said. “It’s been demonstrated as being highly cost effective.

Costs vary by system size and building type. The nonprofit Center for Sustainable Energy estimates a typical residential solar installation will cost about $20,000.

The legislation requires solar photovoltaic systems, solar water heating systems or a combination of the two.

State law requires most new construction to have 15 percent of the rooftop solar ready, meaning it would be feasible to install photovoltaic systems at some point. Wiener’s legislation takes the requirement a step further, by actually requiring the installation.

To gauge the impact the mandate could have, the Department of Environment applied the proposal to construction projects in the pipeline in the third quarter of 2014 and found the 200 projects with solar installations would “avoid over 26,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.”

The current 24.8 megawatt solar systems in place would increase by 7.4 megawatts. The 7.4 megawatts of solar energy can produce 10.5 gigawatt hours of electricity annually, which can power about 2,500 San Francisco homes, Hooper said Tuesday.

Jeanine Cotter, co-founder of Luminalt, a San Francisco-based solar installation company, said last week that “this is where we need to go as a planet. Sebastopol and Lancaster California both have mandates and there is no reason why San Francisco shouldn’t lead the way for the large cities in the state.”

In addition to the rooftop solar effort, The City is expected to debate in the coming months follow-up legislation related to the creation of living roofs on new buildings, which supporters say create such benefits as reducing stormwater runoff into the sewer system, reduce pollution and help residents connect to nature.

In other environmental news Tuesday, Board of Supervisors President London Breed introduced legislation that she says is the most expansive Styrofoam ban in the U.S. It would ban the sale of Styrofoam cups, plates, clamshells, meat trays, egg cartons, pool and beach toys, and coolers as well as impose a ban on the use of Styrofoam packing material for items packaged in San Francisco.