NLC is a proud partner of SolSmart, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. SolSmart is a national designation program that helps local governments produce clean energy locally, which leads to energy independence, clean air and lower energy costs. The program provides no-cost technical assistance to support jurisdictions, increase their knowledge, meet community challenges and achieve solar energy goals. Since 2016, hundreds of local governments across the country have achieved SolSmart designations for meeting national best practices to grow local solar energy markets. SolSmart encourages local governments to streamline permitting requirements, review planning and zoning rules, track solar energy metrics, and work with community organizations to meet equity goals, among other actions to advance solar energy growth.
“St. Louis Park has a bold Climate Action Plan and we are taking bold steps to meet our 2030 goals. Achieving the SolSmart Gold designation showcases the city and staff that have worked hard to use out-of-the-box thinking to advance small rooftop solar installations. It’s an honor to represent a city that leads by example and with innovation. The rewards of SolSmart are many and I encourage all cities to consider it.” – Council Member Sue Budd, St. Louis Park, MN
This spring, SolSmart is announcing a new Platinum designation to recognize local governments with cutting-edge achievements in solar energy, in addition to SolSmart designations at the Gold, Silver, or Bronze levels. Along with the new Platinum designation level, the program has expanded its focus to reflect the latest developments in the clean energy transition. Key priorities will include clean energy equity; national codes and standards; innovative financing; data collection and metrics; and solar-adjacent technologies like battery storage.
“The Town of Morrisville is grateful to the National League of Cities for providing no-cost technical support to help identify the gaps and provide an action plan for securing the credits needed to reach Gold designation from the SolSmart program. Town staff was able to lean on the experts at NLC to verify the steps needed to reach for Gold status … by incorporating an online permitting checklist, cross-training of permitting and inspections staff, and by allowing ‘solar by-right’ accessory use in all Town zones. Being a SolSmart Gold designee supports our region’s Solarize the Triangle combined purchasing program by highlighting solar-friendly processes. We encourage all municipalities, large and small, to explore how SolSmart designation may help you meet your sustainability goals and promote increased renewable energy adoption and strengthen the resilience of your community.” – Mayor TJ Cawley, Morrisville, NC
Below are five actions that SolSmart recommends for your jurisdiction to become solar-ready. These strategies can be implemented in cities, towns or villages with support from no-cost technical assistance providers through the SolSmart Program.
1. Clarify your permitting process.
Post a checklist online outlining the required permits and steps before installation; including relevant local code, application fees, additional documents needed – such as a site or electrical plan, how to submit permits, and the permit approval and inspection timeline.
2. Create a solar landing page on your city website.
Have a separate solar webpage on your government site where residents and businesses can go to understand your community’s solar energy policies and goals, the permitting process, and other education materials from one centralized location. Education materials can include a list of local licensed installers, financial incentives, and consumer protections.
3. Streamline your approval and inspection process.
Creating a separate, streamlined process for small-scale installations (less than 10 kW) can expedite the review and approval of simple systems, also cutting down staff time. Only require one permit and allow online submissions to make it easier on applicants. Lastly, rooftop installations on existing homes require no more than two inspections – city building and fire departments should combine efforts and allow for a single agency to conduct all inspections for systems meeting certain design standards.
4. Modify zoning ordinances.
Even small changes to zoning can make a big difference – like exempting rooftop solar PV from height restrictions and glare studies. The best practice is to codify solar panels as an accessory use that is explicitly allowed by-right in all major zones. If you cannot easily change your ordinances, a zoning determination letter provides similar benefits.
5. Discuss solar goals in city planning documents and at public meetings.
Encourage solar market growth by publicly stating your approval. Including solar targets and goals in planning documents provides a starting point for your community’s solar development. Development is governed largely by the components of the comprehensive plan and guided by the policies and strategies outlined in other functional plans such as a Climate Action Plan or Sustainability Plan.
Technical assistance on completing the above actions, and more, is all included in SolSmart. Every city and town in the United States is eligible to join SolSmart, including in U.S. territories. If you are interested in joining the SolSmart program, visit SolSmart.org.