Department of Energy SolSmart Program
SolSmart is led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. The SolSmart program has two key parts. First, the program provides no-cost technical assistance to help local governments follow national best practices to expand solar energy use in their jurisdictions. Second, it recognizes and celebrates these communities with SolSmart designations of Gold, Silver, and Bronze. To date, more than 480 local governments in 43 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico have achieved SolSmart designation, representing over 109 million people.
Since 2016, the SolSmart Program has helped local governments (LGs) reduce soft cost barriers to solar market development and made it easier for residents to install residential solar energy systems. The next phase of the SolSmart Program will expand LG participation, incorporate new technologies and topics, and further accelerate the deployment of solar energy, while advancing key priorities around equitable energy access and environmental justice (EJ). The new SolSmart program will set a goal of designating at least 500 new communities, for an overall goal of designating 1,000 SolSmart communities across the United States between 2016-2027.
For more information about the SolSmart program please visit the main webpage here.
Why Join SolSmart?
Regional Organization Pathway Designates Regional. Organizations for Solar Leadership
Since 2016, SolSmart has designated over 480 cities, counties, and small towns nationwide for taking bold steps to encourage solar energy growth and remove obstacles to solar development. In 2019 the SolSmart program expanded to include a Regional Designation Pathway recognizing the important role regional organizations can play in influencing their constituent communities and coordinating regional policies to align with best practices. The Regional Organization Pathway is a set of criteria that regional organizations complete to achieve designation and develop solar-friendly regions. Eligible regional organizations include but are not limited to councils of governments (COGs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), regional councils, economic development districts, and other regional development organizations.
The goal of this designation pathway for regional organizations to help make the SolSmart program accessible to more localities in their jurisdiction encouraging engagement and dissemination of best practices for solar market development. For example, regional organizations can help local communities streamline permitting requirements for residential solar projects or revise their planning and zoning codes to reduce impediments to solar market growth—all while continuing to meet other development goals for the community and region. SolSmart provides participating communities with the training and resources to achieve designation and implement policies that better position their region for solar deployment.
Check out this Report by the National Association of Regional Councils and NADO Research Foundation
Given the right resources and information, your region can make an enormous difference in helping local communities expand the use of solar energy and achieve their economic and sustainability goals. In turn, these actions will help the entire nation make a rapid transition toward 100 percent clean energy use. One way this can be achieved is through the SolSmart program, led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.
Participating in SolSmart allows regional organizations to:
- Create a cohesive plan for the entire region
- Bring a local perspective to the adoption of best practices
- Provide a platform for communities to share ideas and solve problems
- Build economies of scale with respect to training sessions and
- engagement with utilities and the community
Regional Organizations with SolSmart Designation
The Centre Region is working with 15 organizations including the municipalities, school district, and several authorities in a collaborative effort to develop a solar power purchase agreement, which would allow the organizations to obtain solar-powered electricity at competitive rates locked in for the next 25 years. Read more here.
Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Pennsylvania
Designation Level: SolSmart Bronze
Designee Website: Solar Photovoltaic Systems – Best Practices for Local Governments
Created an online permitting checklist, increasing transparency for community members and solar installers. Reviewed local zoning codes and identified restrictions that intentionally or unintentionally prohibit solar PV development.
The Metropolitan Council was the nation’s first regional organization to achieve SolSmart designation. Since designation more communities than ever are using solar energy thanks in part to a program that makes it easier for local governments to make the switch to sun. The Great Plains Institute (GPI) led the Upper Midwest cohort of communities seeking SolSmart designation, the largest in the nation. Working with Clean Energy Resource Teams, Metropolitan Council, Midwest Renewable Energy Association, and Winneshiek Energy District, communities across Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are now designated as “solar ready.”
The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission created an online permitting checklist, increasing transparency for community members and solar installers. They reviewed local zoning codes and identified restrictions that intentionally or unintentionally prohibit solar PV development. They also allowed solar by-right accessory use in all zones (so solar installations don’t require special permits or hearings).
TheNaugatuck Valley Council of Governments provided guidance on solar PV planning, zoning and development best practices to communities and counties in the region through training session. They also hosted regional training on best practices in solar permitting for communities, posted a solar landing page on the regional website with information on the region’s solar goals and local resources for solar development. In addition to they they reviewed existing region-wide planning documents and identified new opportunities to integrate solar PV into planning goals.
New River Valley Regional Commission, Virginia
Designation Level: SolSmart Bronze
The New River Valley Regional Commission created an online permitting checklist, increasing transparency for community members and solar installers. They also reviewed local zoning codes and identified restrictions that intentionally or unintentionally prohibit solar PV development.
The NCTCOG is helping communities across the Dallas-Fort Worth region go solar by providing widespread outreach and educational resources. The website GoSolarTexas.org includes solar energy tips for homeowners, best management practices for local governments, and training resources.
The Northern Virginia Regional Commission provided guidance on solar PV planning, zoning and development best practices to communities and counties in the entire region. They shared an inspection checklist for the region and encourages implementation and hosted regional training or discussion on best practices in solar permitting for communities and counties.
OKI Regional Council of Governments (OKI) received SolSmart designation for helping communities in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio area remove obstacles to solar energy growth at the local level! OKI has provided guidance to local governments through best practice development for building and zoning permitting, encouraging solar ready design, engaging finance institutions working on innovative funding options, and working with local utilities to provide interactive solar mapping tools for property owners across the region.
Region Nine Development Commission, Minnesota
Designation Level: SolSmart Silver
Region Nine created an online permitting checklist, increasing transparency for community members and solar installers. They also reviewed local zoning codes and identified restrictions that intentionally or unintentionally prohibit solar PV development.
Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the City of Los Angeles, the South Bay region is home to pristine beaches and business parks, oil refineries and a nature preserve … and now eight new SolSmart designated cities! In 2019, eight communities and the South Bay Cities Council of Governments (SBCCOG) all earned SolSmart designation for their cutting-edge work advancing solar energy, along with related technologies like electric vehicles (EVs).
South Central Regional Council of Governments, Connecticut
Designation Level: SolSmart Silver
South Central Regional Council created an online permitting checklist, increasing transparency for community members and solar installers. They also reviewed local zoning codes and identified restrictions that intentionally or unintentionally prohibit solar PV development.