More than 1 in 3 US rooftops are suitable for solar: 30 million rooftops should be in next relief bill

350 Colorado’s Take on the Governor’s Roadmap + Why 30 Million Solar Rooftops Should Be In the Next Relief Bill by JOHN FARRELL 10 April 2020

As the federal government looks to a second (or even third) stimulus bill, Congress should consider a huge opportunity to pay Americans that pays back: solar rooftops. Somewhat more than one in three home or business rooftops in America is suitable for solar: sunny with sufficient space to host a few panels. By investing $450 billion in rooftop solar, the federal government could slash energy bills for Americans, cut air pollution, and create over 3.7 million jobs. The government could also get paid back.

Rather than compounding the problems of the most recent stimulus bill, which was tilted heavily in favor of large corporations, this solution addresses local needs — for jobs, lower energy bills and sustainable energy sources — while promoting equitable, thriving American communities.

A Proposal That, Over Time, Pays for Itself?

A typical, 5-kilowatt home rooftop solar project has 17 solar panels, producing about 60 percent of a home’s electricity use in an average year, and costs $15,000. The federal government would directly pay solar installers for a project, starting with any customer or property serving customers that are in the lowest income quintile –– those that pay the highest portion of their income for electricity. Two-thirds of the total funds invested, $300 billion, would be reserved for residential home or apartment projects where the project directly lowers the energy bill of the customer.

The other third of the $450 billion would support solar for independent, small businesses (including nonprofits, but no corporate franchises or chains). Priority would be made for businesses like restaurants hardest hit by the coronavirus epidemic.

Already, the federal government provides a tax credit that until last year was 30% of the project’s cost. For all projects, this portion of the project cost will be paid as a cash grant to avoid any complex tax paperwork. For projects serving low-income customers, an additional 50% of project costs will be forgiven. The remaining costs will be gradually repaid to the government through the customer’s utility bill. The repayment mechanism, using the Pay As You Save model, will ensure that a customer’s energy bill savings always exceed the payments back to the government. This financing mechanism will also allow homes and businesses to cover the costs of energy-efficiency improvements to further lower energy bills.

Using this model, the government would likely recoup half of its $450 billion investment directly. Additionally, it would save Americans $20 billion per year in electricity costs. In just over 10 years, the combination of repayments and energy savings would exceed the program’s initial cost.

How would the work get done?

Building this much solar won’t be easy, but it will benefit the millions of Americans losing their jobs. At its peak, the rooftop solar industry has installed approximately 5 gigawatts of solar in a single year on homes and businesses. To do the equivalent of 30 million home rooftops in five years would require doubling the size of the industry each year. In 2020, the industry would do 5 gigawatts. By 2024, it would do 80 gigawatts in a single year. Over five years, it would create over 3.7 million jobs. As with installations, job training programs should prioritize low-income and historically underemployed Americans. This provides a triple benefit: enough clean electricity to serve 5 percent of U.S. electricity needs, savings on welfare programs, and a stable income for millions of families.

Building Wealth and Resilience

Unlike loans and grants to large corporations, putting solar on Americans’ rooftops (and insulation in their walls) puts money in their pockets. It also builds wealth, as studies show that homes with solar tend to recoup a portion of the installation cost in a higher home value. And by focusing on the lowest income folks first –– those will turn around and spend it quickly –– the program gets more money back into the economy faster.

The program can also build resilience. Solar companies are increasingly selling batteries along with rooftop panels, allowing customers to weather grid outages from wildfires or hurricanes. By including energy storage, the government can help communities be better prepared for the next disaster.

The government’s first relief bill bailed out big business. This next round has a chance to do something bigger for America, one rooftop at a time.

This article originally posted at For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update

October 1, 2020 350 Colorado’s Take on the Governor’s Roadmap

350 Colorado’s Take on the Governor’s Roadmap

The Governor’s Climate Cabinet’s GHG Pollution Reduction Roadmap is a start, but to achieve the goals of HB 19-1261, more aggressive goals, specific policies, and enforcement will be needed. 

Last year, legislation was passed in Colorado to begin addressing Colorado’s contribution to the climate crisis and curbing emissions that not only contribute to climate change, but also adversely impact air quality and contribute pollution harmful to respiratory health. The proposed Colorado GHG Reduction Roadmap released on Sept. 30th is a start, but to achieve the goals of HB 19-1261 and eventually more aggressive goals that climate science and justice demand, more specific policies and enforcement will be needed. 

The droughts and wildfires that have turned our skies orange are a reminder that addressing climate change and ensuring a habitable climate requires us to actually transition off of fossil fuels in the near future. Colorado has not met federal air quality standards for over a decade, and the AQCC is still lagging in meeting its statutory requirement to develop rules that will enable Colorado to meet new GHG emissions reduction goals passed by the legislature. 

With the Governor’s Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Roadmap, the state has the opportunity to make critical changes in GHG emission reductions and be a part of the solution in safeguarding our health and air quality. Yet in order to do this, the Roadmap must include far stronger sector-specific targets, policies, and enforcement to protect the environment and climate justice to successfully implement necessary and rapid climate solutions. Despite the potential for bold climate action that the Roadmap represents, the protections and emission reduction goals laid out in the Roadmap must be more ambitious, equitable, quantifiable, and enforceable, and these guiding principles should be directly reflected in the outcomes of the Roadmap. 

Currently, there is no reference to how the Roadmap will develop enforceable measures to monitor and reduce emissions from oil and gas extraction. By enforceable, we mean specifics outlining which entities are being regulated, what pollutants are being regulated, at what level of stringency pollutants are being regulated, and how third party monitoring of emissions will be conducted. Having clear, enforceable limits for various industries to reduce GHG emissions are necessary in order to lock in reductions, and there must be meaningful consequences for polluters when proposed rules are violated.

Furthermore, 350 Colorado is concerned that the current proposed plan in the Roadmap does not align with a 66% likelihood of meeting the IPCC’s goal of staying below 1.5C, which requires 100% GHG emissions by 2036. With current statewide efforts for reducing GHGs, our state is not even on track for a 50% chance of avoiding climate catastrophe. While the plan considers reducing upstream and downstream operation leak rates, it ignores the reality that adequately addressing climate change and ensuring a habitable climate requires us to actually transition off of fossil fuels in the near future and stop bringing online new fossil fuel development. A rapid phase off of fossil fuels needs to be considered in developing key strategies for reaching GHG reductions. There are significant disparities between strategies proposed in the Roadmap for GHG reductions and what is outlined by the IPCC as necessary for a 66% chance of keeping global temperatures rise below 1.5C. 

350 Colorado recommends a 10% per year phase out of all new oil and gas permitting to ensure that Colorado’s emissions reductions align with IPCC goals. We believe that having a total phase out of new fossil fuel development by 2030 outlined in the Roadmap will serve as a catalyst for a just transition, which is another reason why equity must be baked into the rules, rather than it being an afterthought. We are encouraged to see a commitment to a just transition away from coal toward a renewable-energy future written into the Roadmap, and we encourage this just transition to be extended to all fossil fuels. In addition to this, we recommend that “Renewable Natural Gas” (RNG) not be used as a bridge fuel to replace a portion of the fossil-based gas as is suggested in the Roadmap. Investments in RNG will likely simply greenwash and extend the use of fossil gas, when Coloradans would ultimately be better served by a fossil fuel phase out and placing those investments in 100% clean renewable energy.

The proposed emission reduction targets laid out in the Roadmap are far too low, especially in regard to the oil and gas sector, the electric sector, and in regard to the phase out of coal-fired power plants. Currently, the Roadmap proposes for the oil and gas sector a 33% reduction in total emissions by 2025 and a 50% reduction by 2030. For the electric sector, the Roadmap proposes 80% pollution reductions by 2030. For both of these sectors, we believe that the emission reductions fall short. 

In terms of the electric sector, we recommend 70% emissions reductions by 2025 compared to 2005, and 98% by 2030. In terms of the oil and gas sector, we recommend a 45% reduction in oil and gas emissions by 2025 and 90% by 2030. In order to reach these goals, as we have previously stated, we strongly recommend a 10% reduction per year in new oil and gas permitting, for a total phase out of permitting by 2030. We also recommend a phase-out of coal-fired power plants by 2025. 

350 Colorado is also deeply concerned that the Roadmap does not start with an accurate baseline of emissions, especially methane from the oil and gas industry. A more thorough GHG inventory is needed using best available technologies including top down atmospheric measurements. Recent research on the air quality impacts of oil and gas development in Colorado shows a worrying spike in global methane emissions over the last decade from fracking in North America, primarily the U.S., and Colorado is the sixth most fracked stateResearch from Cornell indicates that methane emissions are likely 2-4 times higher than current estimates from the shale oil and gas industry. While the Roadmap is correct in stressing the important role that minimizing the release of methane from the oil and gas industry plays in reaching statewide emission reduction targets, emission estimates of methane and other GHGs are far higher than industry estimates. 

In addition to top-down atmospheric monitoring, we recommend that continuous emissions monitoring at all polluting sites be conducted by an independent third party with methods and expertise suitable to measure a higher dynamic range and with high time resolution in order to ensure that methane is in fact being reduced at the required rate and to hold polluters accountable. This information should be made available to the public online in real time. We see no way that emission reduction targets will be reached unless accurate, continuous emissions monitoring that requires the simultaneous monitoring of VOCs, methane, and BTEX are written directly into the Roadmap. While having data E3 used to develop the Roadmap available to the public is a step in the right direction, this transparency should be extended toward making real-time emissions monitoring data available to the public. 

We encourage the APCD (Air Pollution Control Division of the Department of Public Health and Environment) to make available to the public the reports that will be presented to the AQCC on current and projected GHG inventories. The Roadmap should also address the loopholes created from the AQCC’s latest Regulation number 7, which opts for industry self-reporting and optional, ‘flexible’ monitoring of key oil and gas pollutants. These recently adopted rules do not adequately implement SB 19-181, and given that rulemakings are a main mechanism proposed for ensuring emission reductions, we call for the Roadmap to address any loopholes that result from current and subsequent rulemakings conducted by the AQCC and COGCC.

In summation, 350 Colorado believes that far stronger and bolder protections must be written into the Roadmap in order to ensure that it serves as a solution in safeguarding our health, safety, air quality and climate. The protections and emission reduction goals outlined in the Roadmap must be more ambitious, equitable, quantifiable, and enforceable, and these principles must guide the outcomes of the Roadmap. We are also concerned that the current proposed emissions targets outlined in the Roadmap do not align with either a 66% or even 50% chance of meeting the IPCC’s goal of staying below 1.5C global temperature rise. We call for a total phase out of new fossil fuel development by 2030 as both a necessity for maintaining a habitable planet for generations to come, as well as improving air quality, addressing environmental injustice, and serving as a catalyst for a just transition. Additionally, in order to meet ambitious emissions reduction targets, we must start with an accurate baseline that is measured using the best available technologies, including third-party top down atmospheric measurements and continuous monitoring with this data available to the public in real time online. The fossil fuel industry must not be allowed to self-regulate and self-report. Colorado must properly study and assess the full impact of the oil and gas industry and begin the transition away from oil and gas, in order to both reduce VOC emissions statewide and address the full climate footprint of this state. Amidst wildfires, a statewide drought and serious air quality issues, there is no time to lose to begin making progress toward taking bold climate action to ensure a liveable planet and future. 


To mobilize private investment at scale, many governments will have to adapt their institutional and regulatory frameworks. We have identified four key areas of focus:

1. Set the right climate and renewable energy targets – and follow up with action

Many governments have set targets for emissions reductions. But the majority of these targets are not aligned with what is required by science to achieve the 1.5°C target, let alone staying well below 2°C. But bold targets won’t save our planet, they must translate into action. A visible pipeline for build-out of renewable energy capacity (i.e. wind and solar power), ambitious targets for energy efficiency improvements and sector-specific decarbonisation plans are just a few of these necessary actions. The private sector is key in turning targets into action, by bringing the green technologies and capital needed to ensure a greater pace and scale of the green transformation.

2. Build broad public support for clean energy – through inclusive planning processes to address the use of land and maritime resources and other social impacts

A nine-fold increase in renewable energy generation is required globally to meet the Paris agreement. Utility-scale wind and solar energy projects are expected to account for much of this new renewable generation. This requires comprehensive spatial planning for the use of land and sea resources to balance the needs of diverse users, protect biodiversity, and avoid competition with food production. As a prerequisite for making the green transformation happen, government should facilitate proactive stakeholder engagement to define long-term roadmaps for land and maritime space allocation. In addition, governments should recognize that new job opportunities in the clean energy sector may be in different locations and require different skills than those in fossil fuel industries. This will require governments to plan ahead and design thoughtful policies and social supports to ensure that fossil fuel workers and communities are not left behind in the transition to clean energy.

3. Strengthen the power grid to handle variability

For some, integrating variable renewable energy can appear challenging at first.  But variability can be overcome to a large extent if governments and grid operators improve grid management and build new transmission. In addition, policies that drive broader deployment of energy storage and smart grid technologies will drive innovation and cost reductions in these technologies which further enable clean energy dispatch.

4. Improve the investment case

Policies and processes established by governments and regulatory agencies define power market design. This includes rules for auction schemes, setting market rules for payments for capacity, ancillary services and generation. Through these market design decisions, investment risks are examined. The development community, the investment community and citizens all look at the spread of risk across different actors. Stable, clear policy signals are important. Private companies are accustomed to managing performance risk and construction risks. Ensuring contract risk and political risk are managed and providing long term market design signals will reduce the cost of capital for developers and investors and lower the cost for societies for installing more renewable energy.

How to best address these challenges vary across geographies and power market structures, but a common denominator is that they can be solved through the right institutional and regulatory frameworks. We will publish new research in Q1 2021 to identify concrete steps for governments across the world to unlock the necessary private investments to accelerate the clean energy transition.

We have a decade for governments, business and civil society to unite and decarbonize our global economy. Preserving our common home, Planet Earth, requires us to solve these challenges. Climate Week NYC is a tremendous opportunity to strengthen the momentum. And, Ørsted is proud to be the Clean Energy Transition Program partner for the week.

On October 27, we will take a next step when World Resources Institute and Ørsted will discuss the energy transition challenges during a one-hour virtual dialogue with leaders from national and local governments, energy companies and investors. Sign up here to join us in our quest to speed and scale the renewable energy transition.


3 Hurdles to Racial Justice in Clean Energy – and 3 Ways U.S. Cities Can Overcome Them

by Ted WongLacey ShaverEric Mackres and Yeou-Rong Jih – September 02, 2020

For years, city governments in the United States have taken the lead on committing to climate action, with more than 165 cities aiming for 100% community-wide clean energy. But whether ambitious goals translate to ambitious action is another question altogether, and unfortunately we’ve seen cities fall short of their commitments before.

More recently, many cities have also made or intensified commitments to addressing longstanding structural racism. The movements for racial justice and for environmental sustainability are inextricably linked, since communities of color are disproportionately impacted by climate change and have not always benefited from climate and clean energy programs. But as local governments work to center racial justice in planning and services, they need to further both social equity and environmental sustainability.

Environmental sustainability without social equity isn’t sustainable, so authentic inclusiveness must be at the heart of local government planning processes. To avoid the stumbles of the past, governments can best lead through collaboration with frontline communities. At the very least, this means letting the community lead, measuring what matters and implementing programs inclusively.

Hurdles to a Just Energy Transition

Centering equity in city sustainability programs is a welcome development, but it may be easier said than done. Time after time, sustainability programs have tripped over historical injustices and sometimes made inequity worse. Here are a few potential hurdles, created by the way governments have historically done their work, to keep in mind when developing or implementing a clean energy or sustainability program:

1. Planning Ignores or Misunderstands Historical Racial Context

In 2014, a program to offer free street trees to Detroit residents fell far short of expectations when about a quarter of eligible residents declined the offer. Why? Many residents distrusted the government, based on community memories of urban forestry actions from decades earlier that residents took to be racially motivated. To build trust, officials made fundamental changes to the tree-planting program, hiring local citizens as engagement coordinators and involving residents substantively in the planning process.

Government officials and processes often tend to favor technocratic approaches—wherein activities of government to identify problems and design solutions is controlled primarily by an elite of technical experts. Tree-planting is a technocrat’s dream: a single intervention can mitigate urban heat islands, improve air quality, reduce noise pollution and raise property values. But societal problems evolve from messy histories. For example, neighborhoods with poor canopy coverage are often places where racial oppression intersects with every aspect of residents’ lives, making the isolation of a single problem with a single solution impossible. Failure to account for historical context can lead to failure to address fundamental neighborhood concerns.

2. Decision-making Excludes Frontline Communities

The initial planning for Houston’s enormous Bayou Greenways 2020 parks project laudably included an extensive public outreach effort. But its online-only survey in 2014 polled those residents who were easiest to survey, rather than a representative sample of the population, many of whom lack internet access. Predictably, the process failed to give adequate voice to poor and non-white residents: two-thirds of survey respondents were white with household annual incomes greater than $75,000.

Government officials can inadvertently separate sustainability from racial equity when they solicit public input. The people who are most capable of participating — whose economic, educational and linguistic advantages make participation easier — have outsized influence on government actions. Meanwhile, people who lack resources, time, legal status or comfort with government institutions often find their priorities and concerns underrepresented and unaddressed. And for many of these people, these unaddressed concerns speak to how proposed government actions can be influenced by racial oppression.

Houston recognized problems with its Bayou Greenways outreach and re-surveyed the public about a year later, this time using open-ended questions in in-person interviews in English and Spanish. Researchers found that representation clearly mattered for determining project priorities and planning.

3. Programs Distribute Burdens and Benefits Inequitably

While most people are willing to make sacrifices to help their communities, no one wants an unfair share. Perceptions of inequitable burdens can lead to non-participation and even uprisings, such as in the Yellow Vest protests in France. On the other hand, if the rewards of sustainability are unfairly distributed, green projects can exacerbate social inequities. For example, many local programs focused on increasing the use of residential solar energy have used tax breaks and similar incentive mechanisms, which are more likely to be relevant to wealthy, white home-owners with access to the credit and tax equity needed to participate. This has led to unequal distribution of local solar.

How Can Local Governments Promote Sustainability and Justice?

At the intersection of urban sustainability and racial justice there is a useful, powerful concept: government should use its privileged capacity to elevate frontline leadership. And by extension, actions should be designed through centering the needs of frontline communities, those most impacted by racism and climate change.

Government can offer its various forms of capacity — including legal authorities, asset ownership, relationships with business communities, convening power, staff with elite educations, technical expertise, and data and information — to collaborate with frontline communities and organizations and improve the lives of residents. Having this capacity, and the power that comes with it, is a privilege in a democracy with deep inequality. Cities can refocus how they do business on around listening to those residents who have the greatest knowledge of how society and government actions affect the most afflicted and to those organizations with the greatest access to and moral authority with their neighbors.

So, what does this mean in practice?

1. Let Communities Lead

The first task for governments implementing sustainability projects is to proactively recruit leaders from frontline communities. One way to do this is by partnering with existing social justice organizations. In Portland, Oregon, environmental nonprofits provided technical and organizational expertise to the Portland Clean Energy Fund Coalition, a group of six social justice organizations with deep roots in Portland’s communities of color. Frontline leadership played an instrumental role in the successful passage of a package of tax-supported clean energy grants expected to total $44–61 million; BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) leadership was central to winning trust and endorsements from the public sector and trade unions.

To proactively recruit frontline leaders, local governments should assess and remove potential barriers to participation. That can include consideration of meeting times and spaces, as well as providing childcare, meals, stipends, transportation and interpreters. This process can be a starting point for creating or enhancing relationships with community and social justice organizations.

Frontline residents and leaders may not speak and think in the same terms as city staffers, and some orientation and translation may be required. It can be useful to ground technical discussions in narratives and lived experiences to build common vocabularies out of various cultural and technical reference points, and to be ready to be flexible about timelines and project goals. Most importantly, governments need to listen openly and honor community expertise.

2. Measure What Matters to People

A key role for frontline leaders is to guide the community to define meaningful indicators for success — for evaluating future clean energy scenarios, for evaluating program success and for evaluating the processes to achieve success. One of government’s roles is to provide timely, reliable data and modeling, and to make data and model outcomes accessible to the community. But indicator definition, scenario development and evaluation, and model validation are all tasks that intersect with community values and priorities, so these roles belong to the community.

The City of Orlando developed its 100% renewable energy plan after a series of data-rich community engagements. Orlando staffers worked with Greenlink Analytics to produce data visualizations and maps designed to be easily understood and enable open, substantive discussion with community residents. The maps go beyond standard energy indicators and include equity dimensions such as energy burden (the portion of household income spent paying for electricity and gas bills), making visible city-wide inequities in poverty and energy costs and enabling further conversation on ways to focus future city programming in frontline communities.

A utility burden represents the percentage of annual income that a household or individual pays toward their utility bills (electricity, natural gas, and/or water). This map is taken from an interactive dashboard of Orlando’s utility burden developed by Greenlink Analytics.

3. Implement Programs Inclusively

Program implementation is where the rubber of a sustainability plan meets the road of impacts in the lives of residents. Policy selection, roll-out design and financing decisions all influence the final distribution of program benefits and can therefore spark important debates about fairness amid the tension between equality and equity. Because an equitable implementation plan could be vastly different from the status quo, it might feel starkly unequal.

Scenario assessment and policy prioritization, traditionally the purview of technocratic planners, should be led by the people with the greatest stakes in the outcomes. In a set of community engagement sessions, Orlando’s planners presented visually simple (but analytically sophisticated) clean energy calculators. The calculators enabled residents to translate energy efficiency, solar power and EV adoption targets into greenhouse gas emissions expressed in terms that would be meaningful to residents: bill savings, job creation and public health.<p>Orlando Clean Energy Future Tool (Greenlink Analytics, 2019)</p>

<p>Orlando Clean Energy Future Tool (Greenlink Analytics, 2019)</p>

<p>Centering climate and energy planning on racial justice is no small task, with numerous obstacles in local governments’ paths to equitable energy policy and program design. But by applying governments’ capacities to empower frontline leadership, city staff can start to flip the script on typical planning conversations and build trust with frontline communities.</p>

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This post was developed as part of the Broadly Beneficial Clean Energy Planning project, which provided a training series on equitable clean energy planning in U.S. cities and produced data and scenarios on energy equity for 12 cities. WRI has also recently produced guidance for cities on Inclusive Climate Action Planning.

Stop Fracking!

Colorado is at a crossroads: The fossil fuel industry is invading our neighborhoods and ruining our air, water, land, health and climate.

Tell the COGCC and Gov. Polis to take action to protect our communities now!