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Over 300 Communities in 40 States Now “Open for Solar Business”

National SolSmart program achieves goal to place 300 local governments on path to solar energy growth

Thursday, Oct 10 2019

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Press Release

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WASHINGTON, D.C., – From Anchorage, Alaska, to Sarasota, Florida, more than 300 local governments have now met national benchmarks for encouraging the growth of solar energy and removing barriers to solar market development.

These local governments have each received designation under SolSmart, a national program launched in 2016 that helps local governments make it faster, easier, and more affordable to go solar. SolSmart has now achieved its goal to designate at least 300 local governments as SolSmart Gold, Silver, or Bronze, for a total of 328 communities and counting.

SolSmart is led by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association, and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. All designated communities have met national criteria to prove they have streamlined local procedures to make it easier for homes and businesses to install solar energy systems. SolSmart provides intensive technical assistance at no cost to help communities meet these goals.

The 328 SolSmart designees include cities, counties, small towns, and regional organizations in 40 states and the District of Columbia, representing 82 million people. One in four people in America now live in a SolSmart-designated community. More information on these communities and examples of their solar achievements can be found here.

“All across the nation, local governments are leading the way toward sustainable economic growth,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director at The Solar Foundation. “SolSmart is a high performing, breakthrough program that has already helped more than 300 communities turn their goals and the demands of their constituents into reality, working with them to reduce carbon emissions, lower energy costs, create jobs, and build more resilient infrastructure. With over 18,000 communities in the U.S., we are excited to help hundreds if not thousands more reap the benefits of solar energy and compatible technologies like storage.”

“Creating sustainable communities is at the heart of ICMA’s mission and today’s milestone demonstrates that local governments are making the transition to green energy a reality,” said Marc Ott, Executive Director of the International City/County Management Association. “We are proud to partner with The Solar Foundation, the Department of Energy and most of all local governments across the United States that have stepped up and made it easier for businesses and residents to go solar.”

The actions that SolSmart communities have taken help reduce soft costs, which are the non-hardware costs that today represent roughly 65% of the cost of solar installations. SolSmart helps local governments streamline permit approvals, review planning and zoning guidelines, facilitate group purchase campaigns, and improve solar financing options. Taken together, these actions help lower the overall costs of solar installations and allow the solar industry to expand more rapidly nationwide.

Anchorage, AK became the 300th community to achieve SolSmart designation, after the city installed Alaska’s largest solar array at the William A. Egan Civic and Convention Center. The first SolSmart designations were awarded in 2016 and included Kansas City, MO; Milwaukee, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Philadelphia, PA; Hartford, CT; and others. As the program gained momentum, it truly became national, as many communities that are not known for being “solar friendly” or having a sizable solar market got involved.

Some of the most recent designees include Durham, NC; Elkhart County, IN; San Jose, CA; Doylestown, PA; Stevens Point, WI; Mountain Iron, MN; Miami Lakes, FL; Decorah, IA; and Haddonfield, NJ, among others.

“For years state and local governments have been leading the way on solar energy adoption,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Programs like SolSmart can improve local permitting practices and cut unnecessary costs, making it much easier for American families and businesses to go solar. We congratulate the hundreds of communities that are stepping up to make solar affordable and accessible.”

“Solar and battery permitting should be simple,” said Lynn Jurich, CEO of Sunrun. “SolSmart has encouraged more people to adopt solar, created quality local jobs, and brought more reliable local clean energy to our energy system. We need more clean and resilient options in our local communities, and simplifying permitting is a proven way to make real progress.”

129 of the 328 communities have been designated SolSmart Gold, indicating that they have reached the program’s highest level of achievement. All Gold designated communities have reduced permitting turnaround times to 3 days or less for rooftop solar projects.

An additional 75 communities have achieved SolSmart Silver designation, while 124 have achieved SolSmart Bronze. Nearly one-fourth of all designees (79 in total) started out as Bronze and then worked with the SolSmart technical assistance team to improve local programs and practices and move up to Silver or Gold designation.

Among the 328 designees, some noteworthy achievements include:

  • 189 communities have set up web pages with detailed information on how members of the public can go solar.
  • 226 have ensured that zoning ordinances allow rooftop solar installations in all major areas without excessive restrictions or barriers.
  • 108 have set up group purchase campaigns, providing savings for residents and helping the solar industry reduce customer acquisition costs.
  • 95 have an online permitting submission option, speeding up approvals for installations.
  • All 328 designees have established a set of unique solar goals to help drive continual improvement in their local solar market.

“Chattanooga’s SolSmart Gold designation sends a clear market signal that Chattanooga is an attractive, sustainable place to do business,” said Christy Gillenwater, President & CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce in Tennessee. “Our community is taking bold actions to advance solar energy, including our Chattanooga Airport’s solar farm, which generates enough power to equal the airport’s total energy needs. It’s the only U.S. airport to achieve this sustainable energy goal.”

One of the program’s linchpins for success was that communities competed to receive on-the-ground technical assistance from SolSmart Advisors, who are trained professional staff that live and work in the region for approximately six months. SolSmart Advisors work efficiently across local and state boundaries to help communities share ideas and achieve solar energy goals.

“The SolSmart advisor program has allowed the Great Plains Institute and our partners to mobilize local resources for its largest cohort, which encompasses three states in the upper Midwest and includes communities of all sizes, in metro and rural areas,” said Brian Ross, senior program director at the Great Plains Institute. “These resources and technical assistance are invaluable to busy city staff as they address the unique puzzle of how solar development fits into the fabric of their community and enables them to make progress on critical clean energy goals.”

Throughout the month of October, these 300 communities are planning events, local announcements, and other special activities to highlight their solar energy achievements. More information on these communities and their achievements can be found here.

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About SolSmart:

SolSmart is a national designation and technical assistance program that recognizes leading solar communities and empowers additional communities to expand their local solar markets. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, SolSmart strives to cut red tape, drive greater solar deployment, and make it possible for even more American homes and businesses to access solar energy to meet their electricity needs. More than 300 local governments in 40 states and the District of Columbia have achieved SolSmart designation, representing 82 million Americans. SolSmart is led by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association. Learn more at SolSmart.org.

About The Solar Foundation®:

The Solar Foundation® is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate adoption of the world’s most abundant energy source. Through its leadership, research, and capacity building, The Solar Foundation creates transformative solutions to achieve a prosperous future in which solar and solar-compatible technologies are integrated into all aspects of our lives. Learn more at TheSolarFoundation.org.

About ICMA:

ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, advances professional local government management worldwide through leadership, management, innovation, and ethics. ICMA provides member support; publications; data and information; peer and results-oriented assistance; and training and professional development to more than 12,000 city, town, and county experts and other individuals and organizations throughout the world. The management decisions made by ICMA's members affect millions of individuals living in thousands of communities, from small villages and towns to large metropolitan areas. ICMA has gathered more data on local government than any organization except the federal government, spanning a broad spectrum from economic development to local government innovation. Learn more at ICMA.org.

About SEIA®:

Celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2019, the Solar Energy Industries Association® is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry, which now employs more than 242,000 Americans. Through advocacy and education, SEIA® is building a strong solar industry to power America. SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies to build jobs and diversity, champion the use of cost-competitive solar in America, remove market barriers and educate the public on the benefits of solar energy. Visit SEIA online at www.seia.org.

Media Contact:

Avery Palmer, The Solar Foundation, 202-866-0908, apalmer@solarfound.org

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