Bringing National Solar Resources to Midwest Communities

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The Great Plains Institute is working in partnership with the SolSmart national team to get local governments across four Midwestern states certified as “solar-ready.”  

SolSmart is a new national designation program, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative through the Solar Powering America by Recognizing Communities (SPARC) initiative, designed to recognize communities that have taken key steps to address local barriers to solar energy and foster the growth of mature local solar markets.

The SolSmart designation is the next step in the Grow Solar Partnership, where GPI worked with dozens of cities and counties across four states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa) over the last two years.  GPI provided direct technical assistance to help cities and counties become “shovel-ready” for solar development and to accelerate solar market transformation in the Midwest.  GPI developed a solar-ready-community set of best practices through the Grow Solar Partnership and assisted the SolSmart team to shape the SolSmart criteria and program design.  GPI guided fifteen cities in four states through the SolSmart program application, including Minneapolis and Saint Paul, who were awarded Gold and Bronze certification respectively.  A total of 22 communities across the country have been recognized thus far; fourteen at the gold level, one at the silver level, and seven at the bronze level. SolSmart aims to recognize 300 communities during the three-year, federally-funded program. 

The SolSmart program primarily seeks to address solar “soft costs;” business processes or administrative costs that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system — costs which are then passed on to solar customers. While only certain local government procedures (such as permitting, planning, and zoning) are the source of some soft costs, local governments are in a unique position to reduce soft costs and take action to promote the development of local solar resources.  

The SolSmart designation program will provide high-profile, national recognition for communities that have made it cheaper and easier for solar customers to invest in solar energy. GPI will continue to work with our partners and local communities to take advantage of these national resources to deliver technical assistance to communities on the ground across the Midwest.