Chapel Hill NC debates solar power on all new construction


Back on September 11, 2018, Chapel Hill’s Environmental Stewardship Advisory Board originally submitted a Petition for Install Roof-Mounted Solar Energy Systems on 80% of unshaded roof area on all new construction to the city council. The Board submitted the petition with the following logic:

  • Chapel Hill Town Council has previously passed a resolution to support local activities which reduce our carbon footprint in support of the Paris Climate Accords
  • Energy consumption in buildings represent almost half of the energy use in all sectors of our economy
  • Most of this building energy comes from the burning of fossil fuels, so that the reduction in building energy use will reduce the carbon footprint

Further refinements to the document have added solar thermal can reduce the 80% rule, only southeast to southwest facing pitched roofs are accounted for, parking garages count if nearby the structure they cover, and adherence may be waived if other technologies are used to better reduce carbon emmissions.

Local news site, The News & Observer, reports that John Richardson, the town’s community resilience officer, sought a policy would be flexible enough to address a site’s unique characteristics and to adjust to evolving technology. For example, a developer with a heavily wooded site, was suggested to use heavier insulation.

Another local publication, Chapelboro, quoted the mayor in suggesting flexibility, but they also seemed to show less interest in strong support, versus following other towns that, “put out the information of all the places you can find information about solar companies who do this, get estimates, those kinds of things”.

The California Energy Commission approved 2019 Building Energy Code that calls for solar PV on all new homes, is actually, a net zero residential energy usage goal. It just so happens to see solar power and energy storage as pathways to meet these efficiency goals.

Recent polling found 32% of 2,201 adults polled expressed that they “somewhat” support mandatory solar on new homes in their state, with 31% strongly supporting it. 11% somewhat opposed the measure, with another 11% strongly opposing it. 15% didn’t know or had no opinion.

The Chapel Hill discussion follows, three bills introduced in the New York City Council which would require new buildings to host solar PV, small wind turbines or “green roofs” of plant coverings, and Milwaukee Common Council Member, Tony Zielinski, who proposed legislation that would require all new residential units in the city to include solar arrays, starting in 2019.

And of course, the City of South Miami in 2018, the first of its kind outside of California, mandated 2.75 kW of solar for every 1000 square feet on new homes, as well as those that increase their square footage by 75% or more plus Watertown, Massachusetts that now requires solar power with all new commercial construction and retrofits of structures greater than 10,000 sq feet.

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