New SolSmart Program Helps Cities Go Solar, Create Jobs

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SolSmart offers cities no-cost technical assistance to improve access and affordability of local solar projects. Launched on April 27 by the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities and a team of organizations, the new designation program will recognize the efforts of cities, towns, and counties to implement best practices and promote solar energy.

Since 2010, the average price of solar panels dropped by more than 60 percent. (Getty Images)

The solar industry is one of the fastest growing markets in America, providing middle class jobs and clean, affordable energy. In 2015, the U.S. solar market set a record for system installations with 7.286 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics coming online. That’s a lot of solar panels producing a lot of energy. In fact, that represents 26 percent of all new electricity brought online in the U.S. in 2015—nearly equal to the boom in natural gas. It’s a record that is likely to be smashed in 2016.

Much of the expansion so far has been driven by rapidly falling prices. Since 2010, the average price of solar panels dropped by more than 60 percent. In fact, prices have fallen so much that permitting, inspection, interconnection fees, zoning approval, project delays, and other ‘soft costs’ now account for more than half of the price tag for an average residential solar system—a share that continues to grow. To make things worse, many of the local rules and regulations behind these soft costs vary from city to city, making it difficult for the industry to expand or scale up operations.

So how can your community improve access and spark a local solar market?

The new SolSmart program aims to help cities and counties remove regulatory barriers and capture the economic opportunities associated with solar energy. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and led by The Solar Foundation, ICMA, and others, the program will provide national recognition to leading solar cities and counties.

The SolSmart scorecard aligns best practices on topics such as permitting, financing, zoning, and public education. Earning a higher score will help your city lower the price of solar energy, cut unnecessary red tape, and streamline the process for residents and businesses.

Even more, the program will help communities become solar leaders by providing no-cost technical assistance to complete additional criteria and achieve designation.

To get more information about the program or to find out how your city can pursue designation, submit your name, city, and email address on the form here:

About the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.