New York City Makes 8,500 Acres Of Parking Lots Eligible For Solar Canopy Development

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Solar panels and wind turbines seem to make some people uncomfortable. They don’t object to renewable energy necessarily; they just object to seeing it. Don’t put solar on farmland, even though it may help farmers pay their bills so they can continue to farm. Don’t put wind turbines anywhere that allows them to be seen by the naked eye. The world may be facing an existential tipping point, but that doesn’t mean people should be forced to look at eyesores. Heaven forfend!

All the hoopla and NIMBYism about renewables reminds me of a little Irish ditty that goes like this, “When I was young, I had no sense. I bought a fiddle for 18 pence. The only tune that I could play was over the hills and very far away.” Many critics of renewables would prefer that they be similarly located. If you don’t get the sly humor, you might want to check to see if your funny bone was amputated when you were a child!

One place almost everybody agrees is ideal for solar panels is on roofs over parking lots.  This week, the New York City council passed the “City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality” zoning initiative it says will move the city toward more equitable and sustainable living landmark legislation that relaxes restrictions on solar developments.

“New York City is a ‘City of Yes,’ and this historic proposal will pave the way for a more sustainable future,” said NYC Mayor Eric Adams. “By modernizing our city’s zoning code, we have taken a bold step forward fighting climate change while delivering cleaner air, lower energy costs, smarter waste management, and better access to EV technologies to New Yorkers across the city.”

Solar Set Back Rules Abolished

The new zoning regulations abolish the coverage and setback restrictions for rooftop solar installations that have historically hampered the expansion of clean energy developments. With the setback regulations removed. huge swaths of real estate that were not previously viable for solar development will be made available — in some cases doubling the square footage available on one rooftop. This will result in millions of additional kilowatt-hours of clean electricity being added to the city’s electrical supply over the lifetime of those systems.

In addition, the law will allow for solar canopies to be installed over the city’s 8,500 acres of parking lots, thereby adding enough space for hundreds of additional megawatts of clean energy production — enough to power tens of thousands of homes and apartment units in New York City. Provisions to the zoning laws also offer a boon to property owners in the city. Lower utility costs associated with the installation of solar will increase profits and real estate values.

Commenting on passage of “City of Yes,” Brooklyn SolarWorks’ founder and CEO T.R. Ludwig told Solar Power World, “This is a landmark moment in New York’s effort to boost green technologies and support carbon neutrality. Solar energy’s potential will now be fully realized as a renewable energy resource for all New Yorkers. By removing zoning restrictions that held back installation of solar panels on many homes, thousands more New Yorkers will be able to enjoy the benefits of solar energy. We applaud Mayor Adams and City Council for taking this historic step forward towards a greener and more energy efficient future.”

In a statement, Alia Soomro, deputy director for NYC Policy at the NY  City League of Conservation Voters said,  “The City Council took a big step in the fight against climate change today by passing the City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality (COYCN) zoning amendment, a top NYLCV priority. Simplifying the process to implement green technologies and retrofit buildings for clean energy solutions will mean fewer emissions and it is absolutely essential to meeting the city’s ambitious climate goals. Since the majority of the City’s greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, COYCN will help us move away from fossil fuels and ultimately improve the City’s air quality, a longstanding environmental justice issue.”

Panels Over Parking Lots In France

Earlier this year, France enacted a new law that also promotes solar canopies over parking lots. It specifies that large parking lots have at least 50% of their area covered in solar canopies. Large parking lots are defined as facilities with at least 80 spaces. The law applies to both new and existing parking lots of that size. The new law went into effect in July 2023. Parking lots with more than 400 spaces will have to be in compliance by 2026, while parking lots with 80–400 spaces have a deadline of 2028 to comply.

My colleague Zachary Shahan pointed out that most parking lot owners will welcome the opportunity to generate new revenue from their parking facilities and may choose to cover their facilities with more than 50% solar panels to maximize the business opportunity. One analysis reportedly found that the requirement would add up to 8% of France’s current power capacity to the grid — equivalent to 10 nuclear power plants.

“If half of France’s parking lots are covered by solar panels, they’ll have an installed capacity of between 6.75 gigawatts and 11.25 gigawatts, at a cost of between $8.7 billion and $14.6 billion, according to the official analysis of the legislation,” the Washington Post wrote. “France’s 56 nuclear power plants each have a capacity of slightly over 1 gigawatt on average — and the one under construction in Flamanville has ballooned in cost to $14 billion, according to the latest estimate — roughly the same as the entire solar expansion.”

Apart from the parking lot solar canopy requirement, the new law reportedly “makes it easier to build solar panels alongside highways and eases restrictions on wind power.” It appears that France, long a passionate climate leader, realizes that its nuclear power fleet is a hindrance or challenge now and that new nuclear power is out of the question because it is ridiculously expensive. “There is a paradox. Though our electricity production is one of the most carbon-free in Europe, we are still behind in the development of renewable energies. This bill intends to resolve this contradiction,” Damien Adam, “a French politician said at the time of the bill’s passage.

Proposed solar at highway interchange in San Diego. Courtesy of The Ray

San Diego is also a prime candidate for solar parking canopies thanks to its abundant sunshine and large number of parking lots. One additional advantage is that cars parked under a canopy stay cooler in hot climates like southern California. The Golden State is also thinking of installing solar panels along highway rights of way and at interchanges, where the land is publicly owned and NIMBY concerns are low. Putting solar panels where no one objects to them is smart policy,

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