danstaleyheadshotGuest blog by Dan Staley, Principal of Analemma Resources, an urban forestry, ecology and planning firm in Aurora, CO focusing on applied research, policy and implementation.

Rooftop solar power generation is coming to our neighborhoods. Let’s get ready.

Falling prices, energy security, and improved property values are some of the reasons you see solar panels going up on roofs near your home or business. And there are more on the way. Solar power generation is increasing rapidly – accounting for 29% of all new electricity generation in the U.S. last year. New business models are making rooftop solar affordable for practically anyone, increasing the pace of installations, and will likely make electricity from solar equal in price to all other sources by the end of the decade. This is great news for our pocket books, but what does it mean for our neighborhoods and especially our trees?

Solar-House1Much of this new solar generation is being installed in our neighborhoods right by the trees that make our neighborhoods feel like home. The truth is that community trees throughout the state, even without solar concerns, are decreasing dramatically and this is worrisome as trees are what make our cities livable. Trees cool us in the hot summer, they save electricity by shading buildings, increase property value, improve our health and attract more shoppers.

Both solar and trees are beneficial to us, but the issue is that:

Trees and solar panels compete for increasingly valuable urban sunlight, and our current set of laws is murky with respect to this competition. There is no provision to coordinate how trees interact with solar power in these laws.

The Laws:

California has enacted several key laws that affect the association between trees and rooftop solar power: AB 32 (reducing state greenhouse gas emissions), SB 375 (coordinating land-use and transportation planning for sustainability), and an update to Title 24 to mandate Solar Ready Roofs starting January 2014. The California Solar Shade Control Act offloads enforcement to the civil courts, making it important to do things right the first time.

The Bottom Line:

Changes in land use and other laws means the role of trees is changing in cities. Trees are becoming important “green infrastructure” and must be closely managed and maintained as such in order to have their role continue.  As citizens who want the best for their neighborhoods, the benefits of solar and the many benefits of trees (from energy savings to better health), we need to make sure that careful attention is given to trees, so the trees are not lost in the excitement of solar power.

Trees and rooftop solar are natural partners and with careful thought they can coexist together providing increasing energy benefits.