New SolSmart program to cut ‘red tape’ for communities looking to boost solar installs

solar community program

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and The Solar Foundation (TSF) just launched a new designation program that will recognize leading solar cities and counties as well as empower new communities to advance through no-cost technical assistance. A core component of the technical assistance program — named SolSmart — are its Advisors. These Advisors are fully-funded temporary staff embedded in up to 40 communities to help each achieve designation.

SolSmart is funded by the U.S Department of Energy SunShot Initiative through the Solar Powering America by Recognizing Communities (SPARC) funding opportunity. Over the three-year, federally-funded portion of the program, SolSmart will recognize more than 300 communities that cut red tape around going solar and make it possible for more American homes and businesses to use solar energy to meet their electricity needs.

SolSmart national designation will signal that a community is “open for [solar] business,” helping to attract local economic development and create solar jobs. Attracting new solar businesses can help communities deliver cost savings for solar customers and local governments while new solar installations can help communities achieve their climate goals.

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“Our city has worked hard to make solar more affordable and easier for our residents and small businesses to install,” said City Manager Scott Wingerson of Gladstone, Missouri. “We have seen firsthand how our actions have led to considerable social and economic benefits locally. The solar panels that have been installed at our water treatment plant have served to partially offset the annual utility costs at this facility. Solar gives us another tool to help manage operational costs. SolSmart presents cities and counties nationwide with an opportunity to realize similar benefits and I encourage every community to join Gladstone and get involved.”

The SolSmart program seeks to address solar “soft costs,” which are business processes or administrative costs that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system. Local governments are in a unique position to both reduce these costs and to promote the use of solar in their jurisdictions.

SolSmart offers three levels of designation – Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Communities can earn points to achieve designation tiers by taking action across eight categories. To achieve designation, communities must meet minimum requirements pertaining to two main categories: permitting, as well as planning, zoning, and development regulations. SolSmart communities then have flexibility in achieving the remaining points toward designation in six special-focus categories.

Communities interested in pursuing SolSmart designation, receiving technical assistance, and applying to host an Advisor can learn more and take action at www.solsmart.org.

ICMA will lead the effort to designate communities under SolSmart by reviewing applications and determining whether a community meets the criteria for designation. Communities that apply and do not reach the base designation level will be referred to TSF and their team to receive no-cost technical assistance to help the community qualify for designation.

“The Solar Foundation and its technical assistance partners have extensive experience working with communities to implement best practices,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation. “We look forward to collaborating with local governments on SolSmart to tackle soft cost barriers and establish robust solar markets. Additionally, we are excited to roll out the SolSmart Advisors program, and encourage all communities pursuing designation to apply to host an Advisor by mid-June.”

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