Seeking to transform parking lots across the state into generators of clean energy, State Sen. Josh Becker introduced a bill last week that would offer tax incentives for companies to build solar canopies on their properties.
Known as Senate Bill 49, the bill targets stores like Walmart, whose spacious parking lots Becker sees as potential sites for solar canopies. By driving solar projects into these types of areas, Becker said, the state can lessen the need to construct solar farms in rural areas.
"We're building lots of solar but when you build it on undeveloped land, it's land you can't use for other purposes," Becker told this news organization.
Meanwhile, commercial parking lots today are among some of the most inefficient examples of land use in the state, Becker said. SB 49 would both allow these lots to generate clean energy. And because the lots are already in urban and suburban areas, the installations would obviate the need to construct.
He noted that if Walmart constructed solar canopies on parking lots in all 3,500 of its superstores, the installations would generate about 11 gigawatts of electricity (1 gigawatt is enough to power about 250,000 homes).
That's about the same amount that France estimates it could generate under its recently passed legislation, which requires all parking lots with more than 80 spaces to be covered by solar panels. In describing his legislation, Becker cited as precedent both the French legislation and the bill signed in Washington state earlier this year that allows large-scale commercial parking lots to build solar canopies and to spread out the sales and use taxes associated with the equipment over eight years.
In his announcement, Becker touted the potential of parking lots to help the state reach its goal of 100% clean electricity by 2045. He cited a report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that found that pavement makes up between 35% and 50% of total surface areas in cities and that 40% of that pavement is parking lots.
"Putting a solar canopy over an existing parking lot is a much more efficient use of space than acquiring land to install a ground-mounted system," Becker's announcement states.
He noted that if half of the state's parking lots were covered with solar canopies, that would provide 13 gigawatts of power, or more than 10% of the 110 gigawatts that the state needs to meet its 2045 target.
"This is one of the many tools we're going to need to use to hit our targets of using 90% clean energy by 2035 and achieving 100% carbon neutrality by 2045," Becker said in the announcement. "In my view, this is relatively low-hanging fruit. We've got the land available — now the challenge is to make better use of it."
The bill is set to go through the Legislature's hearing process in early 2023.