Solar Gets Local: How the SolSmart Program Drives Deployment in Communities

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Local jurisdictions are where the rubber meets the road for clean energy deployment. With the right resources, local governments can make solar energy adoption easier and more affordable for homes and businesses alike. At the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), we know that getting the right information in the right hands is crucial to meeting President Biden’s goal of a decarbonized electricity system by 2035 and a decarbonized energy sector by 2050.

That’s why DOE’s SolSmart program, led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), is so important. Since it began in 2016, SolSmart and its team of national experts in solar energy and local government have helped hundreds of jurisdictions implement best practices and take decisive action to encourage the expansion of solar energy. The program offers free technical assistance to help any municipality, county, or regional organization remove obstacles to going solar and reduce the soft costs that can hold back growth. 

Today, there are more than 420 SolSmart designated communities in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — and every community across the country is eligible to join them. Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm announced a goal last fall to add 60 new SolSmart-designated communities no later than March 2022.

Communities earn SolSmart designation by adopting best practices for streamlining solar processes and taking steps to encourage solar development. There are many different pathways that communities can take toward earning a bronze, silver, or gold designation.

Here are a few examples of how some of the newest SolSmart designees are helping to make it faster, easier, and more affordable to go solar:

  • Doraville, GA (SolSmart Bronze) became one of the first SolSmart communities to update its zoning process for battery storage as well as rooftop solar. This change will offer the community more clarity on zoning requirements for solar-plus-storage and encourage adoption.
  • Council Bluffs, IA (SolSmart Gold) trained more than 80 city firefighters on solar photovoltaic (PV) fire safety best practices. In addition, the city enabled large-scale solar PV systems to be co-located with agricultural production. 
  • Newport News, VA (SolSmart Bronze) created a website that offers a one-stop solar energy resource for the community, and provided training staff in fire safety, planning, and zoning best practices.

We’re excited to congratulate the other recent designees including Morrisville, NC (Gold); Reno, NV (Silver); Woodbury, MN (Silver); Northfield, MN (Silver); Mounds View, MN (Bronze); Coon Rapids, MN (Silver); Frisco, CO (Silver); Holly Springs, NC (Bronze); Carmel, IN (Silver); Bayside, WI (Gold); Morris, MN (Silver); Guilford, CT (Bronze); Etna Borough, PA (Bronze); Cary, NC (Silver); Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, OH (Silver); Mundelein, IL (Silver); South Central Regional Council of Governments, CT (Silver); and Borough of Swarthmore, PA (Bronze).

Once communities reach designation, SolSmart ensures they’re able to do even more. This year alone, 26 communities have “leveled up” from SolSmart Bronze to Silver or from Silver to Gold. In the coal country of Southwest Virginia, Wise County moved up to SolSmart Gold status and broke ground on a new solar project on formerly mined land in December 2021. Additionally, SolSmart equity guidelines can help governments develop a unified strategy to achieve their clean energy goals and equity objectives in tandem.

We have a lot of work to do to transition to a clean energy economy, and SolSmart plays an important role in ensuring that all Americans will benefit from it. We invite every community in the United States to team up with SolSmart to help achieve their goals for sustainable energy use and economic growth. 

Courtesy of Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

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