RI Proposes New Construction Solar Mandate

FRIDAY, MARCH 24, 2023

Legislation recently introduced in Rhode Island could create solar panel installation regulations for most new construction projects in the state. The bill, 2023-H 5851, was submitted by state Representative Jennifer Boylan, with a goal to increase energy efficiency, reduce the long-term costs and contribute to clean energy goals.

“Every time a new building is built without solar panels, I see it as a missed opportunity. With energy costs going up and the clock ticking on preventing the worst impacts of climate change, we need to get moving,” said Rep. Boylan (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence).

“We build new houses and schools and then a few years later we think to put solar panels on them. Homeowners, taxpayers and our environment would all benefit from doing things right the first time.”

Bill Details

According to reports, the legislation directs the Rhode Island Building Code Commission to develop solar panel installation regulations for single-family homes, multi-family dwellings, large commercial buildings, and parking lots larger than 16,000 square feet.

In some cases, developers can seek exemptions where solar installation is impractical, alternative renewable energy sources are provided, or when constructing affordable housing without sufficient funding.

Advocates of the bill reportedly add that requiring solar on new construction will help create jobs, add resiliency to the electrical grid and prevent forests from being cut down to make room for solar. Builders are also eligible for a 30% tax rebate from the federal government to help pay for solar installation as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Contractors, architects and builders have a lot to consider when building a house. This bill is about making sure renewable energy is a priority and not an afterthought,” said Boylan.

“The person buying that house will pay more over their lifetime if you build a house that’s hard to retrofit for solar panels. And energy bills for everyone are going to keep going up if we don’t act. By requiring solar whenever practical, everyone will benefit.”

Other Solar, Green Roofs Actions

Over the years, the United States has witnessed a slew of legislation being passed across the nation regarding the implementation of green roofs.

In April 2019, the New York City council approved a package of bills and resolutions intended for radical energy-efficient improvements. The Climate Mobilization Act requires that all new residential and commercial buildings in the city have green roofs made up of either plants, solar panels or small wind turbines—or a combination of all three.

The bill package includes legislation written by councilmembers Rafael Espinal, Donovan Richards and Stephen Levin. All bills require that 100% of a roof’s area is to be covered by one of the green roof options, rather than the traditional 25% to 50% as required by other trending cities.

At the end of the year, St. Louis became the latest city to pass green roof legislation—in this case, roofs on new construction must be “solar ready.”

Board Bill 146, which was signed into legislation in December by former mayor Lyda Krewson and was unanimously approved by the city’s Board of Aldermen, applies to commercial, residential and multifamily construction. Lawmakers cited energy savings for the push.

The requirement is also in compliance with the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code and goes toward the Michael Bloomberg initiative (which the city is a member of) to fight climate change.

In March, Charlotte, North Carolina, joined the solar business through a green tariff deal that involved the construction of a 35-megawatt solar farm, slated to produce enough energy to power 10,000 homes per year.

At the time, the endeavor made Charlotte the most populous city in the nation to acquire such large-scale solar through green tariffs, and the deal is expected to also help meet the city’s climate goals.

The following year, a bill proposed in Massachusetts aimed to make the state the latest to require solar roofs on new residential and commercial buildings. The Solar Neighborhoods Act was reportedly filed at the beginning of March 2021, with a companion bill filed in the Senate.

Bill mandates include:

  • All new buildings will be built “solar-ready,” or able to accommodate rooftop solar panels. The Department of Energy Resources will develop amendments to the state building code ensuring that roofs are strong enough to support solar panels, available roof space is maximized and buildings can accommodate the necessary electrical infrastructure;
  • Rooftop solar panels must be installed on new buildings at the time of construction, including single-family homes, apartment buildings and commercial buildings;
  • For single-family homes, the solar energy system must produce enough electricity on an annual basis to meet 80% of the average demand for similar houses;
  • For other buildings, DOER will establish minimum requirements for the size of solar energy systems; and
  • Buildings may be exempted from solar roof requirements if the roof is too shaded, if a solar hot water system or other renewable energy technology is installed or if the building has a green roof. DOER can also grant exemptions to affordable housing developments.

In August, California Energy Commission announced that it has adopted the 2022 Building Energy Efficiency Standards for newly constructed and renovated buildings.

The 2022 update will be submitted to the California Building Standards Commission, which is scheduled to consider it in December. If approved by the CBSC, it would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, giving builders, contractors and other interested parties a year to gear up for the changes.

In terms of said changes, the 2022 Energy Code focuses on four key areas in newly constructed homes and businesses:

  • Encouraging electric heat pump technology for space and water heating, which consumes less energy and produces fewer emissions than gas-powered units;
  • Establishing electric-ready requirements for single-family homes to position owners to use cleaner electric heating, cooking and electric vehicle charging options whenever they choose to adopt those technologies;
  • Expanding solar photovoltaic system and battery storage standards to make clean energy available onsite and complement the state’s progress toward a 100 percent clean electricity grid; and
  • Strengthening ventilation standards to improve indoor air quality.

Around the same time, the U.S. Energy Information Administration issued an independent statistics and analysis report, revealing that large-scale U.S. solar capacity growth was expected to exceed wind growth for the first time in its history.

The Short-Term Energy Outlook document, which was released on July 7, 2021, projects that solar photovoltaic generating energy will surpass wind-generated energy sometime next year. According to the EIA, the solar capacity growth in the forecast reflects various state and federal policies that support renewable energy.

Following the announcement, the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—a $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill—after weeks of negotiations. Noted in the legislation’s outline, the infrastructure package is expected to allot $73 billion for electric grid and power infrastructure.

In June of last year, President Joe Biden issued three executive orders to prioritize domestic clean energy manufacturing to aid in the goal of eliminating carbon from the country’s power supply by 2035.

According to the White House, the United States is now on track to triple its domestic solar manufacturing capacity by 2024, with the current base capacity of 7.5 gigawatts growing by an additional 15 gigawatts. A total of 22.5 gigawatts will reportedly enable more than 3.3 million homes to switch to clean solar energy each year.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Commercial Buildings; Construction; Energy efficiency; Environmental Controls; Good Technical Practice; Government; Green building; Green Infrastructure; Housing; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Solar; Solar energy

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