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Another Voice: Cities like Buffalo can lead the renewable energy revolution

By Heather Leibowitz

Imagine capturing all of the solar energy that beats down on Buffalo’s rooftops every day. We could power our homes, schools, offices and even our cars, buses and trains with clean and virtually limitless sunshine.

Local leaders in Buffalo and other New York cities can help all of us lead a major transition to renewable energy – a boon to the climate, public health and our pocketbooks.
Solar power just had its best year ever, with U.S. solar installations nearly doubling from 2015 to 2016.

We’re growing solar power here in Buffalo, too. In our annual report ranking cities for solar power, Buffalo was 34th for total solar panels in the nation, just ahead of cities like Nashville, Memphis and Atlanta.

Last year solar was the No. 1 new energy source installed in America, muscling out traditional sources of power like coal, gas and oil.

Cities are leading much of this charge. Today, the top 20 cities for solar power have as much solar energy as the entire country had in 2010.

That’s good news considering science is showing us that we need to make a swift and steady switch to renewable energy to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Solar power is also boosting local economies while helping consumers save on energy bills. The cost to install solar is down 60 percent over the past decade.

This is making it easier than ever to choose renewable energy over power that requires fossil fuel sources subject to market swings.

It’s unfortunate that the Trump administration is taking steps backward on solar power. We know that solar energy is not politically divisive in the public. In fact, recent polls show that 91 percent of Americans agree that we should place the same or more emphasis on domestic solar power production as we do on energy production from other sources.

In the absence of federal leadership, states and cities will need to pick up the slack. They can do it, and we’re watching it happen in our own communities.

We are seeing a clear commitment from leaders in New York. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s successful NY-SUN Initiative helped create an especially quick growth of solar energy. Between 2011 and 2016, there has been an 800 percent increase of state-supported solar power.

We can do even more. Cities can commit to aggressive solar goals, power public buildings with solar and implement programs to make it easier for residents to go solar.

With leadership from Buffalo and other cities, we can keep the solar revolution on track to help power our lives with 100 percent renewable energy.

We know we can and must get there, but how quickly will depend on leaders in our cities, states and institutions. Let’s lean into solar and let the sunshine in.

Heather Leibowitz is the director of Environment New York, a statewide advocacy organization.

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