According to Environment California, Nevada City, CA (with a tiny population of 2,800) boasts nearly one-in-five households with rooftop solar installations, making it the most solar-friendly city in the state.
How do they do it? High regional electricity prices, state legislation allowing homeowners to fund renewable energy projects through property taxes, and easy and inexpensive municipal permitting processes all laid the groundwork. But according to Martin Webb, owner of solar company "Plan It Solar"—responsible for nearly half the city’s solar installations—what makes Nevada City unique is a local history of solar manufacturing dating back to the 1970s. The “extreme concentration of solar companies” competes heavily for customers not only through traditional advertising and sponsorship of community events, but also through public education campaigns to grow the solar market.
Environment California wants to help places like Nevada City do just that: they are calling for a feed-in tariff (FIT) to meet the state’s goal of a million solar roofs by 2017. Mali Dyck of the Alliance for a Post-Petroleum Local Economy's Center for Sustainable Living in Nevada City agrees, stating that a FIT could help establish a solar energy co-operative, enabling apartment dwellers and owners of shady properties to purchase renewable energy. But don’t count on it north of the border: the people behind Toronto’s energy co-op WindShare, which built and operates the Exhibition Place wind turbine, are as yet uncertain that the FIT introduced by Ontario's Green Energy Act will be enough to build SolarShare, a solar energy counterpart.
California’s climate has an impact, but not as much as you’d think: nearby Sacramento, the tenth sunniest city in the United States, does not make Environment California’s top-ten list of solar installations per household. In part, Webb argues, this is due to its lower utility costs. “The technology is robust and great,” says Webb, “but price is important too.”