The national SolSmart program is expanding to help 500 more cities, towns, counties and regional organizations in the United States strengthen local solar energy markets, achieve energy equity goals and encourage economic growth.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the SolSmart program offers expert technical assistance at no cost to help local governments adopt nationally recognized best practices to advance solar energy adoption. Since the program launched in 2016, the program has helped hundreds of local governments and their residents save time and money by reducing the soft costs of going solar, which are the non-hardware costs that drive up the expense of installations.
The program now plans to add 500 new SolSmart designees by 2027, doubling the total number of solar-friendly communities nationwide. This will allow even more residents, businesses, nonprofits and government facilities to meet their electricity needs through solar.
SolSmart is a collaborative effort led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), along with other partner organizations that have extensive expertise in solar energy and local government. The program is funded by DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office.
“We would like to sincerely thank IREC and ICMA for the critical role they play in the SolSmart program,” said Alejandro Moreno, acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. “Local governments across the country are looking to solar power to cut energy costs and transform their energy futures. This is why the SolSmart program is so important. It reduces barriers to solar energy by giving communities the tools to equitably deploy solar and enjoy the many benefits including household savings, job creation, resilience and more.”
To further its mission, SolSmart has announced a new Platinum designation that recognizes local governments for cutting-edge achievements in the deployment of solar energy. This includes initiatives like instant online permitting and a commitment to support equitable access to solar energy.
Along with the new Platinum designation level, the program has expanded its focus to reflect the latest developments in the clean energy transition. Key priorities will include clean energy equity; national codes and standards; innovative financing; data collection and metrics; and solar-adjacent technologies like battery storage.
“Solar energy is poised for unprecedented expansion across the United States due to groundbreaking policies such as the Inflation Reduction Act,” said Larry Sherwood, president and CEO at IREC. “SolSmart will help local governments take advantage of this growth and ensure their own communities can benefit.”
SolSmart’s innovative approach to promoting solar energy has been instrumental in helping local officials adopt best practices and procedures for solar.
“ICMA has assisted thousands of communities across the country through our programs over the years. Our team of expert technical assistance providers is ready to help local governments take actions to scale up solar deployment and meet their energy and climate goals,” said Marc Ott, executive director of ICMA.
A cornerstone of SolSmart’s efforts will be to further the goals of the federal Justice40 initiative to provide equitable opportunities for underserved communities which face barriers including fossil dependence, energy burden, environmental and climate hazards, and socio-economic vulnerabilities. Of the 500 new designees, at least 200 will be from jurisdictions that the DOE recognizes as underserved.
SolSmart participants achieve designation by implementing national best practices that local governments can adopt to grow their solar markets. By updating zoning to provide clear and reasonable guidelines for solar projects, streamlining permitting and inspection, integrating solar into planning, and engaging with utilities, financial institutions and other partners to proactively address other market barriers, SolSmart designees are making it faster, easier and more affordable for their residents to go solar.
SolSmart designees are now in 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All cities, towns, counties and regional organizations in the United States are invited to join SolSmart and receive no-cost technical assistance to achieve designation. Communities that are already SolSmart-designated are able to “level up” to designation as Silver, Gold or Platinum.
Full details on the SolSmart program and the newly updated criteria for local governments and regional organizations to achieve designation, along with information on how to sign up for the program, are available at SolSmart.org.
— Solar Builder magazine