Collaboration Encourages Solar Energy Growth

Local and State Affiliation Yields National Recognition

Orange County and the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, in collaboration with the NC Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) at NC State University, have each earned a Bronze level designation into the SolSmart program, a U.S. Department of Energy initiative that provides official recognition and expert technical assistance to help communities expand solar energy development. Participation in SolSmart indicates these communities have taken steps to grow the local solar market by making solar more affordable for residents and businesses while encouraging new economic development and jobs.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, SolSmart recognizes communities that adopt programs and practices that reduce barriers and lower the costs of going solar. SolSmart is administered by a team of national experts led by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association.

“We are especially pleased to have the opportunity to work in our own backyard, so to speak, and utilize our policy and training expertise to support these local clean energy efforts,” said Steve Kalland, NCCETC’s executive director. “It’s great that these three communities had the interest and foresight to leverage their common interests to work cooperatively on this initiative and that the Solar Foundation selected the NC Clean Energy Technology Center to serve as their local technical advisors.”

SolSmart grants designation to cities and counties at the gold, silver and bronze levels. Designation is based on a system of prerequisites and points that shows communities have met uniform, national criteria for encouraging solar market growth. The three Bronze designees intend to continuing working towards silver and gold designation over the coming months

To receive SolSmart designation, communities must take action to reduce solar “soft costs,” which are non-hardware costs that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system. Reducing these costs leads to savings that are passed on to consumers. Examples of soft costs include planning and zoning; permitting, interconnection, and inspection; financing; customer acquisition and installation labor.  

As part of their bronze designations Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro are collaborating with the NCCETC on two training workshops for local governments: New Trends in Solar Permitting and Inspections and Solar Fire and Safety. Each of the three communities have also developed an online checklist for solar permitting in their communities. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to work closely with Chapel Hill and Carrboro and hope to continue our mutual interests in supporting cleaner, safer communities,” remarked Brennan Bouma, Orange County Sustainability Coordinator.  

SolSmart provides no-cost technical assistance from a team of local and national solar experts to help cities and counties achieve designation. The NCCETC is working with the three Triangle communities to continue their efforts to adopt programs and processes that will lower soft costs and encourage solar energy growth. A SolSmart designation is a signal that a community is “open for solar business,” offering public recognition that the community is a favorable place for solar energy growth. SolSmart is open to all cities and counties across the nation. Other communities seeking to join the program can learn more at SolSmart.org.