The case for solar varies wildly from region to region, and a lot of the reason for that involves red tape. Fifty-eight communities in 25 states have now achieved designation under SolSmart, a national program that recognizes cities and counties for lowering barriers to solar energy development. Representing more than 29 million people, these cities and counties are cutting red tape to reduce the cost of solar energy at the local level and become “open for solar business.”
Today, SolSmart is announcing 22 new designations at the American Planning Association National Planning Conference in New York City. Since the program launched in April 2016, 58 communities have received designation. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, SolSmart aims to designate at least 300 communities within three years.
“In just one year, 58 communities have demonstrated national leadership by making it faster, easier, and cheaper to go solar,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director at The Solar Foundation. “These cities and counties are installing new solar capacity, reducing interconnection times, streamlining permitting requirements, and reducing the cost of solar for homes and businesses, opening the door to tremendous job growth and economic expansion.”
Nine communities hit the highest designation
SolSmart Gold: Atlanta, Georgia; Beaverton, Oregon; Davis, California; El Paso, Texas; Hillsboro, Oregon; Huntington Beach, California; Madison, Wisconsin; Washington, D.C.; and Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Two new communities were designated SolSmart Silver: Ames, Iowa and Oro Valley, Arizona.
Eleven new communities were designated SolSmart Bronze: Carrboro, North Carolina; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Charlottesville, Virginia; Cupertino, California; Dartmouth, Massachusetts; Lincoln, Nebraska; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Natick, Massachusetts; Orange County, North Carolina; Raymore, Missouri; and San Antonio, Texas.
And four more communities achieved SolSmart Gold after they were previously designated silver or bronze: Charleston County, South Carolina; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Somerville, Massachusetts.
“The City of Atlanta is proud to receive the SolSmart Gold Designation in recognition of our path-breaking leadership with solar energy,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. “We launched the Solar Atlanta program in 2015, and are now installing solar panels on 28 municipal buildings, saving money and reducing our carbon emissions. With our new, streamlined permitting process, we are also sending the message that solar works for our residents and property owners.”
Examples of red tape reduction
Local governments achieve SolSmart designation by evaluating programs and practices, such as permitting, planning, and zoning, in order to reduce obstacles to solar energy development and pass cost savings on to consumers.
A few examples of their achievements include:
Atlanta, SolSmart Gold: The city developed a process to approve certain solar permit applications over the counter; proposed a solar plus storage project on an urban farm; launched a solar landing page on the city’s sustainability website; and created a streamlined permitting pathway for small solar systems.
Ames, SolSmart Silver: The city created an interactive map to share solar information with the public; encouraged solar projects on community facilities; provided clear guidance for solar in historic and special use districts; and provided intensive cross-training to permitting and inspection staff.
San Antonio, SolSmart Bronze: The city developed an online solar permitting process; installed solar on public facilities including the San Antonio International Airport; and created incentives through the local utility to make solar more affordable.
— Solar Builder magazine