Kudos to Southwest Virginia: Eight counties achieve SolSmart designation to encourage local solar energy market


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Eight Southwest Virginia communities have achieved designation under the national SolSmart program for encouraging the growth of local solar energy markets, at a time when several major solar installations on schools, businesses, and community centers are poised to begin across the region.

These communities were each awarded a SolSmart designation for taking local action to reduce the time and expense required to install solar energy systems. Solar energy allows residents and businesses to lower their electricity bills using a renewable power source, while at the same time driving new economic development and creating local jobs.

Among these communities, Wise County achieved SolSmart Silver designation, while the following others achieved SolSmart Bronze designation: Dickenson County, Lee County, City of Norton, Russell County, Scott County, Town of St. Paul, and Tazewell County.

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These are the first communities in the central Appalachian region of western Virginia, eastern Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky to have applied for and received the SolSmart designation. All were honored at a recognition event today in St. Paul, with elected officials, local business leaders, and community members in attendance.

“The development of solar projects is key to my ‘all of the above’ approach to energy, and has the potential to generate new jobs and foster economic growth in an environmentally-friendly way,” said Virginia Senator Mark Warner. “I congratulate these eight counties and towns from Southwest Virginia for striving to bring down the barriers that often put solar energy out of reach. I also want to thank SolSmart for helping these applicants achieve the high standards set out by the Department of Energy. Going forward, I hope that other localities across Virginia will look to these applicants and make it easier for communities across the Commonwealth to go solar.”

SolSmart is led by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. SolSmart uses objective criteria to recognize communities that reduce barriers to solar energy development and provides no-cost technical assistance to help communities achieve designation.

“Southwest Virginia prides itself on the production of energy, and this is just a different way of continuing the energy production,” said Lou Wallace, member of the Russell County Board of Supervisors. “Many manufacturing companies are looking for communities and counties who are forward thinking, and having this designation just solidifies our commitment to our future.”

“UVa-Wise is pleased to see the SWVA Economic Forum of 2016 was the catalyst for sparking interest in solar capacity among our localities,” said Becki Joyce, Program Director for Community and Economic Development University of Virginia’s College at Wise. “This model of regional collaboration proves Southwest Virginia is open to improving local processes in order to attract business prospects for solar companies. We are proud of the work these communities have accomplished in reaching bronze level designation.”

Nationwide, local requirements for permitting, inspection, and zoning can significantly increase the cost of a solar installation. By cutting red tape and streamlining the process for developing solar installations, communities make it faster, easier, and more affordable for residents and businesses to go solar.

Southwest Virginia communities also received in-depth technical assistance from SolSmart Advisor Gary Hearl, President and Managing Member of Elevation Energy & Communications LLC, a commercial renewable energy development, financing and advisory firm. SolSmart Advisors work intensively with communities to help them meet solar energy development goals.

The Southwest Virginia communities are now well positioned to benefit from an expansion of solar energy in the region. Already, at least seven large-scale solar projects totaling more than 4 megawatts are expected to begin construction by the end of the year – including at Ridgeview High School in Clintwood, Central High School in Wise County, and the Lonesome Pine Technology Park in Wise County, among other locations. The SolSmart designation will help facilitate additional solar projects in these communities at the residential, commercial, and utility-scale levels.

In the future, the SolSmart program will continue to provide no-cost assistance to help these communities develop solar energy markets, with the opportunity to advance to the SolSmart Silver or Gold levels. Technical assistance from SolSmart will help facilitate additional large-scale solar energy growth in the region, including the development of solar projects on former coalfields.

In addition, new funding from GO Virginia Region One will support a Solar Jobs, Manufacturing and Utility-Scale Investment Playbook for Southwest Virginia, which will identify pathways for large-scale investment and job growth for solar manufacturing and utility-scale solar development. The Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia will develop the playbook along with The Solar Foundation and other partners.

Today, more than 275 counties, municipalities, and regional organizations in 38 states and the District of Columbia have been designated SolSmart Gold, Silver, or Bronze. All municipalities, counties, and regional organizations are eligible to apply for SolSmart designation. Interested communities can learn more at SolSmart.org.

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