New Report: Portland Lags Behind on Solar Power Among U.S. Cities

Bright Spots Include Becky's Diner and Fore Street Garage
For Immediate Release

Environment Maine was joined at Becky’s Diner today by Rep. Mike Michaud, Mayor Michael Brennan, Zach Rand, son of diner owner Becky Rand, and other local elected officials and business leaders to release a new report, “Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution.” The report provides a first-of-its-kind comparative look at the growth of solar power in major American cities, including Portland.

Solar power is booming across the country—the amount of solar PV capacity in the United States tripled in two years from 2011 and 2013—and cities are at the forefront. However, Portland has just 3 watts of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity per person, ranking the city 44th out of 57 major cities studied. Considering cumulative installed solar PV capacity, Portland, with 0.2 MW, ranks third to last, just ahead of last-place Billings, Montana and Charleston, West Virginia. 

“Each new solar panel helps to clean our air, fight global warming, boost the economy, and create jobs,” said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor. “The progress we are seeing here and around the country should give us the confidence we can do more. Let’s go solar, Portland!”  

“Given the threat of climate change to Portland Harbor, we should be doing everything we can to harness pollution-free solar energy. I'm proud that Portland is a green city, but we’ve only scratched the surface on solar power. I hope to improve Portland’s solar ranking, building on the great leadership of Becky’s Diner, East Brown Cow Management, and other Portland business leaders and homeowners,” said Portland Mayor Brennan.

While the report focuses on solar PV, Portland homeowners and businesses, like Becky’s Diner, are also using solar power to meet other energy needs. Becky’s has eight flat plate solar hot water collectors on its roof.  Examples of other local businesses with solar include Coffee by Design, Fore Street Garage, Hampton Inn, and three Portland Schools –- East End, King, and Lincoln. 

“We’re proud to use solar power to heat the diner’s water. By using less fossil fuels, we’re helping to keep Maine as we know and love it. Come see the roof-top panels and inside display the next time you come by for pancakes or a bowl of chowder, and rest assured that the water that will wash your dishes is heated by the sun,” said Becky’s Diner’s Zach Rand. 

The report comes just weeks after Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill (LD 1252) to re-establish Maine’s solar rebate program. Maine is currently the only state in New England without policies to lower the barriers to solar energy development for residents and businesses. 

Other key findings from the report include the following:

  • The top 20 solar cities have more solar power within their city limits (890 MW) than was installed in the entire U.S. just six years ago.
  • On a per-capita basis, Honolulu is the leading solar city, followed by San Jose and Wilmington, Delaware, with 265 watts, 97 watts, and 96 watts of installed solar PV capacity per person, respectively. 
  • On a cumulative basis, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix are the top solar cities, with 132 MW, 107 MW, and 96 MW of cumulative installed solar PV capacity, respectively.
  • Smart policies, not the amount of sunlight a city receives, have fueled the growth in America’s top solar cities. These best practices include:
    1. Setting ambitious and achievable goals for solar power;
    2. Leading by example by putting solar on public buildings;
    3. Adopting local financing options and tax incentives;
    4. Reducing unnecessary red tape and fees;
    5. Promoting community solar projects; and
    6. Encouraging strong state and federal leadership on solar. 

“Solar energy is an elegant solution to the difficult and very serious problem of climate change. I’ve persevered to use solar in several projects in the Portland area, like the Fore Street Garage, but it’s never been the easiest path. I would be thrilled for Portland and the State of Maine to put policies in place to make it easier for companies like mine to use pollution-free solar energy,” said Tim Soley of East Brown Cow Management.  

“Maine’s $5 billion per year tourist industry depends on the Dirigo State’s pristine environmental reputation. The City of Portland has an opportunity to protect and grow that industry, while creating good local jobs by establishing an ambitious goal to have solar panels on every south-facing rooftop in the city," said ReVision Energy Co-founder Phil Coupe.

“We’ve made progress on solar here in Portland, but we’ve just begun. By committing to bold goals and putting strong policies in place both in Portland and at the state level, we can make Portland shine and reap the environmental and economic benefits of the solar revolution,” concluded Figdor.

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Environment Maine is an environmental advocacy organization that works on behalf of its 19,000 members and supporters to preserve Maine’s open spaces, protect clean air and water, and steer the state toward a clean energy future. For more information, please visit www.environmentmaine.org