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Law requires all new construction to be ready for solar

CITY HALL – Want to install solar panels on your roof? You may have to pay thousands of dollars even before you buy a panel to retrofit your house so it can use the electricity the panels handle.

You’ll have to ensure your roof can handle the extra weight and rip out walls so you can install the conduit from the roof to the electrical panel in the basement.  But if you did all that when you built the house, you’d just have to pay somebody to hook the panels up.

That’s the idea behind a bill signed into law two days before Christmas by Mayor Lyda Krewson. Board Bill 146 requires all new residential, multifamily or commercial construction in St. Louis to easily handle the installation of rooftop solar panels.

On Dec. 13, the Board of Aldermen unanimously approved the legislation, which was sponsored by 28th Ward Alderwoman Heather Navarro. 

The new law makes the city the first in the Midwest and the second in the country to establish the requirements at the start. It adopts the requirements into the International Conservation Code of the City of St. Louis.

City Climate Advisor Maurice K. Muia estimated that the extra steps needed to make a 2,000-square-foot house solar ready at the start would cost from $600 to a maximum of $1,000. The builder of a $17.5 million five-story office structure would add $18,750 to its cost. 

But the owners of an existing house might have to pay $5,000 to make their home ready for panels. 

“The goal of this is to do all of this in the design phase,” Muia said.

Maurice K. Muia, Decarbonization Climate Advisor
The law doesn’t require owners of existing buildings to do anything, including when they’re doing renovations. But that’s a good time to do this, Muia said.

According to a news release, St. Louis is one of just 25 cities selected to participate in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge.

The new solar readiness ordinance is the first piece of climate legislation the city plans as part of the climate challenge.

“As Mayor, I want people to know that this Administration is taking the climate crisis seriously and meeting its challenges head-on, especially at the local level,” Krewson said. “That includes signing this historic solar readiness bill, which reflects that commitment. I extend my sincere thanks to all those who worked diligently together to make this legislation possible.”

Catherine L. Werner, sustainability director for the city, wrote in an email, “We have observed a great deal of interest in taking climate action at the local level, and specifically in the use of renewable energy.” 

“The financials for using solar are improving at a rapid rate, but for many the upfront cost is still a barrier,” she said. “By ensuring thoughtful design within new construction, we are addressing that barrier and readying our building stock to support one of the cleanest sources of energy right where people live, work, learn and play.”

Werner added, “This will likely translate to a triple bottom line win to many: lower utility costs, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality and local green jobs.”

Until now, only those who can afford up-front installation costs of solar power benefit from lower electric costs, Navarro said.

Building Commissioner Frank Oswald said in an email, “This new solar ready ordinance fits perfectly in the City’s progressive use of modern, up-to-date building codes that are cost-effective, keep the public safe and conscious of our environment.” 

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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