When you look at a rooftop, what do you see? A protective shelter for a family or a business, sure, but do you also see a missed opportunity? I do.

In a world facing so many environmental challenges -- from polluted air and water that threatens the health of our communities, to a rapidly changing climate -- our existing infrastructure must be a part of the solution. We need to move towards a future powered by clean and renewable energy, and taking advantage of the sun’s plentiful energy shining on our rooftops will play a key role in that transition.

We can and should add solar installations to existing homes, but we can also streamline the process and commit to universally and efficiently powering every home with clean energy. Putting solar on every new house as it is built is a great place to start. After all, the most efficient time to install solar panels is when workers are already on the roof. Although this is a new idea, it’s starting to spread quickly.

Last year, California became the first state in the country to adopt a policy that all new homes be built with solar panels. The policy, which takes effect in 2020, is part of an overhaul of the state’s building code that aims to cut energy use in new buildings by 50 percent.

A recent report published by Environment Montana Research and Policy Center found that implementing a policy similar to California’s in Montana would create a tenfold increase in our solar energy output by 2045, while also cutting carbon emissions.

Montanans already know that the way we currently produce and consume energy is harmful to us now, and that it threatens our future. We see the lasting damage being caused by burning fossil fuels every day, from precious water supplies permanently contaminated by leaky oil pipelines, to scars on our natural landscapes from coal mining, to polluted air that threatens the health of our communities. The Fourth National Climate Assessment painted a dire picture of what the future could hold for the High Plains if we continue to rely on these dirty energy sources, from reduced snowpack to prolonged drought and more severe storms.

With the sunlight that hits our country every day, we have more than enough potential to power our lives with clean, renewable energy. In fact, a 2016 study by the National Renewable Energy Lab found that rooftop solar alone could provide up to 39 percent of the nation’s electricity if panels were installed on every suitable roof. And solar energy is more efficient and affordable than ever before.

In 2019, we no longer need to burn coal and gas to keep our lights on, and Montana’s communities should be doing everything in their power to adopt as much solar energy as possible. One step we can take now is to require solar panels on all new homes.

Implementing a Solar Homes policy will not only reduce global warming emissions, but consumers will also save money on energy and solar technologies will become more affordable. Rooftop solar panels save homeowners money in the long run -- even more so when installation happens as a part of initial construction.

Implementing such a policy will reduce global warming emissions. At the same time, it will help make solar technologies even more affordable than they’ve already become, creating more opportunity for more solar installations.  And rooftop solar panels save homeowners money in the long run -- even more so when installation happens as a part of initial construction.

While California has moved forward with a solar homes policy at the state level, other states are yet to follow suit. In the absence of a statewide policy here in Montana, cities have an opportunity to step forward as solar energy leaders. A handful of communities across the country have already enacted solar policies for new buildings, from Lancaster, Calif., to South Miami, Flor., to Watertown, Mass. Missoula can protect the environment and do our part to address climate change. Putting solar panels on all new homes would be a powerful step to take.