June 26, 2019 – Carbondale has done it. Garfield County, Silt and New Castle are considering it.
Challenged by Garfield Clean Energy, the local governments are working toward making it faster, easier and more affordable for local homeowners and businesses to go solar through participation in a national program called SolSmart.
Last month, Carbondale became the first municipality in Garfield County to receive a SolSmart designation, at the silver level.
Carbondale’s designation recognizes the town for its commitment to driving continual improvement in the local solar market, by removing unnecessary permitting barriers and tracking key metrics related to solar energy deployment.
“We are honored to be recognized through the SolSmart award,” said Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson. “For decades Carbondale has been focusing on a clean energy economy and we have been reaping the benefits ever since. I’d like to think the SolSmart award reflects that for Carbondale, renewable energy is more than a catch phrase, it’s woven into our community’s DNA.”
Garfield Clean Energy is a consortium of nine local governments and taxing districts. Last September, the GCE board approved incorporating SolSmart designation into its strategic plan as a way to lower barriers to solar development, thus tapping clean energy as a means to creating a stronger, more resilient economy.
“Carbondale got the ball rolling, and now we’re excited to be working with other local governments that want to streamline their solar regulations,” said Katharine Rushton, renewable energy program director at Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), which runs GCE’s programs.
Rushton noted that inefficient local approval processes can add up to $2,500 to the cost of installing a solar system. Eliminating red tape and making the permitting process easier to navigate saves everyone – solar customers, installers, local government – time and money.
Garfield County, with 230-plus days of sun annually, is in a prime position to attract solar development and diversify the energy economy, according to Rushton.
“Can we be the first county in Colorado to have all jurisdictions be SolSmart designated? I think it would deliver the message that Garfield County is interested in supporting existing solar jobs and in attracting further solar development.”
According to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census, there were 75 solar-specific jobs in Garfield County in 2018.
The measures promoted by SolSmart help lower the cost of solar installations, allowing more local homes and businesses to obtain affordable, clean, renewable electricity, Rushton explained. As more local governments adopt these measures, solar companies will be more incentivized to do business in the area, driving economic development and creating local jobs.
The U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that national solar deployment will grow by 1,618 GW by 2050 – a 30-fold increase over the 60 GW of current installed solar capacity. Rushton said now is the time to review solar planning, codes and permitting to remove any unnecessary barriers and attract the economic benefit of solar development to Garfield County and its municipalities.
SolSmart uses objective criteria to award communities points based on the actions they take to reduce barriers to solar energy development. Communities that take sufficient action are designated either gold, silver, or bronze.
SolSmart has completed an initial review for all of the GCE government partners and charted a simple path to at least bronze designation, and CLEER is providing them with support to achieve designation.
The SolSmart program in Colorado is led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and is funded by the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office. More than 200 cities, towns and counties nationwide have achieved SolSmart designation since the program launched in 2016.