Town of Apex Receives SolSmart Gold Designation

Above photo: Town Manager Drew Haven welcoming first responders to SolSmart training.

NCCETC assisted Town of Apex to become more solar friendly 

The Town of Apex has received Gold designation from the national SolSmart program for making it faster, easier and more affordable for Apex homes and businesses to install solar. 

SolSmart is a national designation program that recognizes communities that have met goals designed to enhance and streamline solar energy development by removing local barriers. To help communities achieve designation, SolSmart provides no-cost technical assistance from experts who work with local governments to evaluate programs and practices that impact solar markets and identify opportunities for improvement. 

The Town of Apex is among only 127 other cities and counties in the United States to have achieved SolSmart’s highest designation, and among only five in North Carolina. Apex has also earned a special recognition award for their inspection policies and procedures.

“We are happy to be recognized for the efforts made to reduce barriers to solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment and for showing leadership in terms of PV installation and education,” said Drew Havens, Town of Apex Manager. 

To receive SolSmart Gold, Town of Apex accomplished each of the following:

  •       Eliminated permitting and inspection fees for solar PV installation
  •       Modified electric utility policies to be more encouraging for solar PV
  •       Streamlined permitting for solar PV
  •       Changed ordinance wording to remove barriers to solar PV
  •       Installed solar PV on town facilities
  •       Improved access to solar PV information on the Town’s website 

Town of Apex has been making changes to its solar policies since 2018. Previously, the Town required a $100 application review fee charged by the Electric Utility, plus approximately $100 for building plan review/inspections. In addition to the fees, an engineer’s seal was required on drawings/plans for any rooftop PV installations. In 2018, the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center’s (NCCETC) Policy Analyst, David Sarkisian, along with Senior Project Manager of Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), Brian Lips, reviewed Town of Apex’s policies on solar – conducting a thorough review on rates, processes and permitting – and came up with a list of recommendations, of which the town council adopted a large portion.

In 2019, Center staff also assisted the Town of Apex with its Gold SolSmart designation by facilitating Solar PV Fire Safety training in June that attracted first responders from neighboring communities of Holly Springs, Morrisville and Cary. Later that month, the NCCETC organized a Permitting & Inspections Workshop for Town of Apex staff.

Apex removed the barriers of permit fees along with engineer approval for standard solar setups. In addition to the fee and stamp changes, Town of Apex modified the system size limit for residential rooftop systems from 10 kW to 20 kW, made the Time of Use rate now optional for solar PV customers, and now allow customers to carry credit for energy produced as long as they maintain their account.

Roof-top solar panels have also been installed on nine Town government buildings including Fire Stations and Public Works facilities, according to the Town of Apex, providing an annual savings of about $141,000 in electric costs.

“These efforts, along with our recent investment of nearly $700,000 to install solar PV systems on government buildings, demonstrate that our community is committed to driving continual improvement in our solar market, and in the process of doing so, work toward the goals outlined in a Town Council resolution committing to 100% renewable energy by the year 2050,” wrote previous Apex Mayor Lance Olive in a letter.

Moving forward, Town of Apex plans to encourage solar PV in new homes, maintain its solar landing page and continue to educate and inform people regarding the value of solar. The Town also plans to continue to refine its solar PV permitting and inspection process, review and modify development ordinances to reduce barriers to solar PV as needed, and finish the installation on Town facilities. Apex is also considering the addition of a “Sustainability Manager” position, who will focus on this and other sustainability efforts, Havens said. 

Anne Tazewell, Special Projects Manager at NCCETC, said she is grateful for the opportunity that SolSmart provided to assist the Town of Apex and other communities in North Carolina and Virginia.  

“We would very much like to continue to apply the Center staff’s broad range of skills to serve the Town of Apex as well as other communities interested in energy resiliency and reduced emissions,” Tazewell said.

SolSmart is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and run by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

View the Town of Apex’s current solar program policies and resources here.