Growing environmental consciousness and rising utility bills have made many consumers consider solar energy as an alternative to conventional, fossil fuel-generated electricity. However, many local governments across the country do not have the proper policies or mechanisms in place to nurture this growth. A new initiative, the Solar Ready Community Recognition Program, attempts to help local governments catch up to the growing demand for solar power. Developed by the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), a Kansas City-based regional planning organization, the program aims to encourage municipalities in the region to prepare for the widespread adoption of solar energy.
The Solar Ready Community Recognition Program, as part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative Rooftop Solar Challenge II Solar Ready II project, rewards local governments working to create a strong regulatory framework for solar energy adoption. The goal of the program is to reduce the cost of solar energy by making the installation of solar panels faster and easier. To achieve these goals, participating jurisdictions work to align their policies with solar Best Management Practices (BMPs).
The solar BMPs focus on streamlining and standardizing the regulatory aspects of the solar installation process, and include: developing a set of solar-ready construction guidelines; amending zoning codes to address solar installation; creating a solar central information source; standardizing solar permit fees; pre-qualifying certain accredited installers; and taking additional steps to make the installation of solar panels quicker and more efficient.
MARC provides three awards—bronze, silver, and gold—to outstanding participant jurisdictions. The recognition awards are based on the number of BMPs implemented by each municipality. To receive a bronze award, local governments must implement solar-friendly construction guidelines and solar provisions in the zoning code. A silver award requires either a solar permit checklist or a solar central information source, in addition to the bronze level BMPs. A municipality must add two additional solar-friendly actions of their choice to secure gold-level recognition.
To support municipalities interested in participating in the program, MARC offers one-on-one technical assistance. This is an opportunity for local governments to review their current solar processes and polices, gain a better understanding of the solar BMPs, and determine the best course of action for the community. MARC also assists the recipient local government with press releases, newsletters, and media statements about the prestigious certification.
The program has been received very positively by participating jurisdictions. A representative of Raymore, MO, a previous award winner, articulated how helpful MARC’s program has been, saying: “Raymore is a solar friendly community that encourages installation of solar panels throughout the City. Through the adoption and implementation of several Solar Ready Best Management Practices, Raymore staff stands ready to assist homeowners and businesses in the solar panel installation process.”
Consumers seeking to install solar panels outside of the MARC region still face many hurdles, as many local governments are not yet equipped to regulate this type of energy infrastructure. DOE is working to address these issues and assist communities who want to increase their solar adoption. This month, DOE awarded the International City/County Management Association and The Solar Foundation $13 million to establish the Solar Powering America by Recognizing Communities (SPARC) program. SPARC partners will launch a national recognition initiative and provide technical assistance to municipalities seeking to improve local solar market conditions through best practice implementation. Qualified jurisdictions will earn national designation as Solar Ready Communities and join a peer network of leading communities across the country. To learn more about SPARC, visit the Department of Energy website.