The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and The Solar Foundation (TSF) have launched the SolSmart designation program, a government-backed initiative to recognize leading solar cities and counties in the U.S. and empower new communities to advance through no-cost technical assistance.
The partners say SolSmart national designation will signal that a community is “open for [solar] business,” helping to attract local economic development and create solar jobs. The program also 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. The partners say 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.
ICMA will lead the effort to designate communities under SolSmart by reviewing applications and determining whether a community meets the criteria for designation. The association will be supported by the National Civic League, Home Innovation Research Labs, Meister Consultants Group and TSF.
“The role of local governments in building stronger and more resilient communities has never been greater,” says ICMA Executive Director Robert J. O’Neill Jr. “Cities, towns and counties consume a large portion of the nation’s electricity, which is why they can also have a significant impact on the financial, environmental and economic health of the country by adopting solar energy technologies. The SolSmart program will recognize that impact.”
Communities that apply and do not reach the base designation level will be referred to TSF and its team to receive no-cost technical assistance to help the community qualify for designation.
The SolSmart technical assistance program includes the opportunity for communities to host fully funded temporary staff called SolSmart Advisors. These program ambassadors will travel to communities selected through an open, competitive process and provide personalized, hands-on assistance to help each host community achieve SolSmart designation.
Joining TSF on the technical assistance team are the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Meister Consultants Group, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Electric Power Research Institute, the Regulatory Assistance Project, and Brooks Engineering.
“The Solar Foundation and its technical assistance partners have extensive experience working with communities to implement best practices,” says 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.”
SolSmart is funded by the U.S Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative through the Solar Powering America by Recognizing Communities funding opportunity. Over the three-year, federally funded portion of the program, SolSmart is expected to 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.
Communities interested in pursuing SolSmart designation, receiving technical assistance or applying to host an advisor can learn more at solsmart.org.