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Cities add most solar installations

By Mark Jaffe

The Denver Post

One of the most fertile grounds for solar panels in the U.S. looks to be big cities, where by the end of 2014 about 1,300 megawatts were installed — enough to power 250,000 homes.

A study on urban solar by the Frontier Group and Environment America found while cities have 0.1 percent of the country's land, they are home to 6.5 percent of the nation's photovoltaic solar panels.

While the top cities tended to be sunny — Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix — solar can be found in all sorts of places.

Indianapolis, with 107 megawatts of panels at the end of 2014, had almost twice as much solar as Denver.

Denver ranked eighth among cities for solar capacity with 57 megawatts, and was praised for its efforts to remove roadblocks for solar installations.

"Denver has been a leader in Colorado and the nation in making solar more economical by reducing permit and inspection costs," said Rebecca Cantwell, director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

The cost of paperwork, taxes, inspections and acquiring materials — so-called soft costs — can account for 64 percent of the entire cost of a solar project.

"Denver has done things such as electronic submittals for permits and over-the-counter issuing of permits," Cantwell said.

In 2012, Denver was named the first city in COSEIA's "Solar Friendly Community" program.

Fifteen other Colorado municipalities and counties have joined the voluntary program and reduced the barriers to installing solar.

Changes made by Fort Collins knocked two weeks off the city's permitting process, Cantwell said.

Indianapolis got the fourth spot on the report's list because in 2010 Indianapolis Power & Light took sweeping steps to add solar.

It offered an above-market feed-in tariff for electricity put on the grid by solar units, and it had a rebate program for small home installations.

The utility has discontinued both programs, and a legislative bill introduced this year would reduce payments further and also allow utilities to charge homes and businesses with solar panels a users fee.

Indianapolis' "solar boom" is at risk, the report, Shining Cities, said.

"It is pretty clear that on-the-ground policies say a lot where solar will be built and where it won't," said Kim Stevens, solar campaign director at Environmental Colorado.

 

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