New Program Offers Solar Development Technical Assistance for Local Communities

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The Great Plains Institute is working with communities across the Midwest to develop local solar resources and capture the economic and environmental value of solar energy.  

The rooftop “solar reserve” of Midwestern cities (the solar equivalent of oil and gas “reserves”) is a vast and largely untapped local energy resource.  Rooftop solar resources could, with current technology, generate an equivalent of 25 – 70% of the total local annual electric use in most cities. 

To help cities tap these resources, GPI works through the Grow Solar Partnership, a multi-state, U.S. Department of Energy funded effort led by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association to remove barriers and create opportunities for local solar development.  In Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa, GPI helps communities create policies, land use regulations, and local permitting practices that make the community “shovel-ready” for solar development and support economically self-sustaining local solar energy markets.

Through our work with the Grow Solar Partnership, GPI is also participating in a new national program, SolSmart, which will certify local governments as “solar-ready” and provide direct technical assistance to cities, counties, and regional governments to capture solar development opportunities. Leading cities and counties will be designated at the Bronze, Silver, or Gold level. 

The new SolSmart program aims to help cities and counties capture the economic opportunities associated with solar energy. Funded through the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, SolSmart will provide national recognition to leading solar cities and counties and empower new communities to become solar leaders through no-cost technical assistance.

Opportunities for governments to increase the adoption and affordability of solar are not limited to the federal or state level. A primary message of the SunShot Initiatives is that local governments are a critical and necessary partner to reducing the non-hardware “soft costs” of solar development.  Soft costs, the business process or administrative costs of market-driven solar development, can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system – costs which are passed on to solar customers and limit solar market potential.

Lowering soft costs also helps local governments operate more efficiently, stretch taxpayer dollars further, attract new solar jobs and companies, and make solar more affordable for residents and businesses. 

SolSmart and its designation can help a local government achieve these cost reductions and signal to solar companies and others that the community is “open for [solar] business.”

Local governments are uniquely positioned to reduce soft costs by promoting solar in their jurisdictions. The SolSmart program will provide communities with no-cost technical assistance to lower these costs and achieve designation. A core component of this technical assistance program is the opportunity to host a SolSmart Advisor – experienced, fully-funded temporary staff – available for up to 40 communities to achieve designation or improve their rating. 

Cities and counties interested in learning more about the program or taking action to receive no-cost technical assistance and earn designation can visit www.solsmart.org

The first application period for communities interested in hosting a SolSmart Advisor ends June 20th.  A second application period will be offered at a future date.  Communities just interested in SolSmart certification can apply anytime.