Some praise solar power for its environmental friendliness and others favor it for the cost savings and the jobs added to the state economy, but Manchester is behind other Northeast American cities when it comes to solar power installations, and advocates say city policies might be slowing the progress.
Making Manchester a solar hub
According to the report Shining Cities 2016 by Environment America, Manchester had among the lowest amounts of photovoltaic panel-generated solar power with 2 megawatts of direct current power, ranking 48 out of 64 major cities included in the study. Still, with 18 watts per capita, Manchester’s true ranking, which takes population into account, is 31.
“So [nationally], it’s sort of keeping pace with its peers on solar, staying in the middle of the pack,” said Catherine Lindsay, spokesperson for Environment New Hampshire.
The data, provided by Eversource Energy, is from the end of 2015. Manchester was the only New Hampshire city in the study.
While Manchester has more solar capacity installed per capita than major Midwestern cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Detroit, Michigan or Des Moines, Iowa, it lags behind other Northeastern cities.
“We see, in the Northeast, Newark [New Jersey] and Burlington [Vermont] are much higher up on the list in terms of their solar capacity per capita. They rank 11th and 13th in the nation,” Lindsay said. “We think we can follow their example and make Manchester a northeastern hub for solar as well.”
For pro-solar groups, Manchester’s position is still a positive sign. The growth in solar that has happened so far has been largely driven by lowered cost.
“We’re seeing the cost of solar panels decreasing very rapidly, which is exciting. It’s becoming more accessible to more people [because of] the plummeting cost in partnership with state and local programs to help incentivize it,” Lindsay said.
Sharon Solomon, an organizer with Environment New Hampshire, says the report is mostly good news.
“The Manchester Airport has a large installation, and businesses and private citizens have really taken on solar installation. I think what’s really exciting about this report, especially since it came out the same day as the legislature doubled the net metering cap, is that even having hit the net metering cap, New Hampshire is still keeping pace with everybody else,” Solomon said.
The best ways for communities to hasten the growth of solar installations, according to Lindsay, is to adopt certain incentives.
“We think with stronger local and statewide policies, Manchester can increase its ranking and really shine when it comes to solar, which we already see happening [and] is very exciting,” Lindsay said.
A major policy option is ensuring property tax rates don’t increase if solar is installed through what’s called a “tax neutral” incentive.
“The state of New Hampshire also offers tax-neutral incentives for clean energy including solar, which Manchester could still adopt to make it easier for homeowners and businesses to decide to make the switch to solar,” Lindsay said.
More than 100 communities in New Hampshire have already adopted tax exemptions for solar, such as Bow, Canterbury, Derry, Londonderry, Windham and the cities of Nashua and Portsmouth. Goffstown, Alstead, Sugar Hill and Lincoln adopted tax exemptions in 2015.
Solomon says she’s aware of a few projects underway in southern New Hampshire to add more solar power.
“I think that there’s a few big projects that are really exciting. I know that Derry is doing some really cool stuff as well as Concord, [which] just approved a large solar installation,” Solomon said.
The plan in Concord allows for SolarCity to build one or two 1.98 kilowatt-hour solar arrays on city property near the Merrimack River. SolarCity will pay property taxes to the city while Concord will pay for the electricity generated by the array at a fixed 20-year rate.