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Should cities and towns be required to place solar panels on the roofs of new municipal buildings?

Mark SandeenFran Ludwig


Mark Sandeen

Lexington selectman; President, MassSolar, an advocacy group; owner of solar business; former chair of Sustainable Lexington

Ninety-two percent of Americans overwhelmingly favor more solar energy, and that support transcends party lines. It is easy to see why so many people love solar: It is a clean, renewable energy source that lowers electricity costs, reduces fossil fuel pollution, and improves our health.

Solar now produces about 6 percent of the electricity we consume in Massachusetts. But we could be doing far more. A federal study found that Massachusetts could generate about 47 percent of its electricity from rooftop solar.


One way to accelerate solar energy production would be by requiring cities and towns to install rooftop solar on all new municipal buildings, potentially exempting communities served by municipal light districts, which are ineligible for the state’s solar incentive program.

Lexington has been doing its part. We installed rooftop solar on five schools and our library in 2014, and then built a major solar installation, including two solar canopies, at our composting facility in 2017. Those projects provide more than $500,000 in new annual revenue to the town.

Our solar projects have been so successful that we now require that all our new municipal buildings be designed to maximize on-site solar unless there are good reasons solar is not possible.

The policy challenges architects to question business-as-usual assumptions, look carefully at what’s possible for each building, and design for solar from the start.

In our experience architects rise to the challenge. They delivered all-electric, energy-efficient designs maximizing solar production on four recent building projects: a preschool, an elementary school, a fire station, and a police station. Amazingly, the two new schools will be net-zero, generating more energy from their rooftops and parking lots than they consume.

Municipal policies also set an example for commercial property owners, showing how to profitably produce significant amounts of renewable energy.


Once Lexington’s next phase of solar projects are operating, our solar energy systems will generate 65 percent of Lexington’s municipal electricity and almost $1 million in annual revenue, all at no cost to the town.

Our policies should ask architects to design for the future, a clean, renewable energy future that is better for our health, wallets, and planet.

William H. RyanHandout


William H. Ryan

Former Haverhill mayor, city councilor, and School Committee member

We all want our local communities to do whatever they can to help fight global climate change. But mandating cities and towns include a rooftop solar array on every new building is a misguided way to promote that goal.

There is no doubt solar power offers great promise as a way to save money and help the environment. But at least in the short term, there are plenty of reasons municipal leaders should tread cautiously in embracing it.

With so many solar contractors to choose from, municipal managers no less than homeowners face a daunting task in deciding which are most likely to be reliable over the long-term. A mistake in choosing a contractor could result in high costs and significant headaches down the road.

Moreover, the technology of solar energy is fast-changing. It may not be much of an exaggeration to say a solar system you installed 20 years ago is today equal to having a wood stove on your roof. Rather than rush into installing a system that might soon become obsolete, municipalities would do better to wait for the technology to advance.


Municipal leaders should also be wary about the potential costs they face in maintaining or replacing solar collectors. This is New England, after all, where we are accustomed to the kinds of heavy storms that can inflict damage or even destroy facilities exposed to the elements.

Cities and towns are foolish to go full tilt on solar when they have other much less risky or costly ways to curb their carbon footprints. Initiatives ranging from repairing or replacing old windows to shutting off lights when not in use, updating HVAC and electrical systems, and installing new insulation, could go a long way toward reducing our energy use.

We can all embrace the vision of a future in which the roofs of every school and town hall contain solar arrays. But rather than race headlong into that future, let’s make sure the technology is there to make it a workable reality. In the meantime there is much cities and towns can do to be part of the solution to climate change.

This is not a scientific survey. Please only vote once.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.