The City of South Miami, Florida City Commission is scheduled to take a final vote on July 18 on an ordinance that will require rooftop photovoltaic panels on new construction and major renovations.

The ordinance is likely to pass given that at its July 12 meeting the second reader version of this ordinance passed with a 4 to 1 vote.

The proposed requirement is a first anywhere except in California where there are only a very few locales with a similar mandate. The ordinance is modeled after similar laws enacted in the California municipalities of Lancaster, Sebastopol, and Santa Monica, and the City of San Francisco.

There are places like Baltimore that as part of its green building code require 1% onsite renewable energy (not only rooftop solar) and in lieu allow the purchase of green power. Such is arguably more progressive than mandating rooftop solar only, but still makes matters of energy a priority. And many governments incentivize solar on top of the existing federal tax incentives.

There was opposition to this mandate expressed at the City Commission session, including real concern this will pressure affordable housing. There was also concern expressed that it can be difficult and more expensive to sell a house with rooftop solar panels.

But the Commission members were swayed by the June 13 Planning Board review and unanimous approval for “requiring solar energy collectors as part of new construction of certain residential dwellings.” The Commission concluded rooftop solar installations will benefit the local economy by supporting small businesses, creating well-paying jobs, and directing profits to local business owners; in spite of opposition that characterized the real beneficiaries as Wall Street lenders and Chinese solar panel manufacturers.

Specifically, the ordinance mandates this new requirement applies to,

All new construction of single-family residences, townhouses, and any multi-story residential building where a section of roof can be reasonably allocated, as determined by the Director of the Building Department or the Planning and Zoning Department, ..

This requirement shall also apply to existing residential buildings as described above, if an alteration or addition is made that either increases the square footage of the principal structure by 75% or greater, or that replaces 75% or more of the existing sub-roof.

And the mandate requires, at a minimum,

One panel with a minimum of 2.75 kW nameplate photovoltaic capacity per 1,000 square 20 feet of living area provided there is sufficient space within the available roof top Solar Zone; or 175 square feet of solar collectors per 1,000 square feet of roof area.

The ordinance is here.

The ordinance is likely not a model for other jurisdictions, but viewed most positively, noting it impacts only one small south municipality in the sunshine state, this is part of an evolving energy dialogue that may force a larger debate about the nature of energy in our society. In the country that banned the 100 watt lightbulb, should anyone be surprised that a small city in Florida is legislating onsite renewable energy as a public good?