State of Virginia has a plan to make solar more accessible, affordable

Virginia sun

In the battle to grow solar energy adoption, the SolSmart program is on the frontlines, focusing on local-level inefficiencies. Municipalities and jurisdictions that follow its guidelines (stuff like streamlining permitting and easing zoning restrictions) have made huge strides in organically growing their solar industries. That’s why it’s encouraging to hear that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) and the University of Virginia (UVA) are teaming with the experts at SolSmart to make it faster, easier, and more affordable for local governments to go solar across the state.

“We are excited to work with UVA and the DMME to help more Virginia communities meet their clean energy goals through SolSmart,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director at The Solar Foundation. “Even in the wake of new challenges created by COVID-19, local governments are looking to clean energy to renew their economies and create high-quality jobs in the years ahead. With Virginia now poised to be one of the leading markets for solar energy growth, these expert Advisors will be helping communities succeed.”

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SolSmart is a national program 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. Since the program launched in 2016, more than 350 communities in 41 states and the District of Columbia have achieved designation as SolSmart Gold, Silver, or Bronze, including 20 communities and one regional organization in Virginia.

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What’s in the plan?

The SolSmart Advisors from DMME and UVA will work with local governments to encourage solar energy growth. Advisors help review local programs and practices to remove obstacles to solar development and make it easier for homes and businesses to go solar. They will also be available to assist with current challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis, such as by providing resources on handling solar permits and inspections on a remote basis.

Carrie Hearne is the Solar Program Manager at DMME. In her role, she provides outreach and technical assistance for localities on utility-scale solar siting and local government renewable energy procurement. Elizabeth Marshall is the Senior Project Coordinator for the Virginia Solar Initiative at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at UVA. She provides solar policy and technical support to local governments across the state.

The Virginia communities to participate in this engagement will be selected over the coming weeks. Any municipality or county that is interested in taking part in the program should head here.

“Solar development is key in meeting Virginia’s clean energy goals established in the Virginia Clean Economy Act,” said DMME Director John Warren. “DMME has expertise and is well positioned to serve our friends on the local level as we all work toward the transition to a clean energy grid. We are excited about our collaboration with the University of Virginia in developing and launching this program. Their technical advice will provide critical guidance and input needed to engage stakeholders and ensure program success.”

The SolSmart program has previously deployed three rounds of Advisors. In Virginia, a local Advisor helped eight communities in the Southwest region of the state achieve designation in 2019. Other Advisor organizations that have worked in Virginia include the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

The solar industry is expected to expand across Virginia in the coming years, in part due to the recent passage of the Clean Energy Economy Act which contains new mandates and incentives for solar. Virginia already has nearly 4,500 solar jobs as of 2019, according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census.

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