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Solar on all new homes could help meet SA’s environmental challenges

March 3, 2019

When you look at a rooftop, what do you see? A protective shelter for a family or a business, sure, but do you also see a missed opportunity? I do.

In a world facing so many environmental challenges — from polluted air and water that threaten the health of our communities, to a rapidly changing climate — our infrastructure must be a part of the solution. We need to move toward a future powered by clean and renewable energy, and taking advantage of the sun’s plentiful energy shining on our rooftops will play a key role in that transition.

As San Antonio grows and changes, we need to build smart and commit to universally and efficiently powering every home with clean energy. Installing solar panels on all new homes is a great place to start. After all, the best time to install solar panels is when workers are already on the roof.

Last year, California became the first state in the country to adopt a policy that all new homes be built with solar panels. The policy, which takes effect in 2020, is part of an overhaul of the state’s building code that aims to cut energy use in new buildings by 50 percent.

A recent report published by the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center found that implementing a policy similar to California’s in Texas would increased Texas’ solar capacity ten-fold by 2045, while also cutting carbon emissions.

The wealth of public dialogue regarding San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan makes clear that San Antonio’s residents know we need to act on climate. The way we currently produce and consume energy is harmful to us now, and it threatens our future. From more frequent and extreme heat waves, to more dangerous flooding and bigger, more frequent storms, the Fourth National Climate Assessment painted a dire picture of what the future could hold for the Southern Great Plains Region if we continue to rely on dirty energy sources.

With the sunlight that hits our country every day, we have more than enough potential to power our lives with clean, renewable energy. In fact, a 2016 study by the National Renewable Energy Lab found that rooftop solar alone could provide up to 39 percent of the nation’s electricity if panels were installed on every suitable roof. And solar energy is more efficient and affordable than ever before.

In 2019, we no longer need to burn coal and gas to keep our lights on. San Antonio should be doing everything in its power to adopt as much solar energy as possible. One step the city can take now is to update its building code to mandate solar panels on all new houses.

Implementing a solar homes policy would reduce global-warming emissions. At the same time, it will help make solar technologies even more affordable, creating opportunities for more solar installations. And rooftop solar panels save homeowners money in the long run — even more so when installation happens as a part of initial construction.

While California has moved forward with a solar homes policy at the state level, other states are yet to follow suit. In the absence of a statewide policy in Texas, San Antonio has an opportunity to step forward as a solar energy leader. A handful of cities across the country have already enacted solar policies for new buildings, including Lancaster, Calif., South Miami, Fla., and Watertown, Mass.

Here in Texas, San Antonio has a track record of leadership on clean energy. The city leads the state in installed solar capacity, and in the face of climate change, it can do better. It’s time to get started on building a brighter future, and putting solar panels on all new homes is a great way do just that.

Emma Pabst is an associate at Environment Texas in Austin.