In May, Orange County and the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, in collaboration with the Center earned a Bronze level designation into the SolSmart program, a national program supported by the U.S. DOE’s SunShot Initiative. As of this August the three communities will see their efforts pay off in the form of Silver (Orange County) and Gold (Chapel Hill and Carrboro) level designations.
“In order to reach the highest level, the Gold level, a community needs to set the goal of having just a 3-day turnaround for a solar permit,” says Anne Tazewell, Special Projects Manager at the Center. Three days is a significant increase in productivity where it would normally take 10-14 days to do it.
“Some of the major accomplishments that all three communities did, is on their websites,” she says. On all three communities’ websites you can find a solar webpage that includes resources like a solar permitting checklist and a solar locator map that shows where all of the solar installations in the community are located. “In Orange County it’s close to 400 of them!”
The goal is to reduce the soft costs of solar, including things like permitting and zoning, and to make the installation easier.
“As a Center we brought a lot to the table,” according to Tazewell. “Because training is another big aspect this project.”
The Center provided two training workshops for local governments: New Trends in Solar Permitting and Inspections and Solar Fire and Safety. These trainings focused on what to look for in the event of a fire in a home with solar panels.
Orange County is coordinating an open source database to share with the 911 dispatch office that all three communities share, so that firefighters know which homes/addresses have solar. Additionally, all three communities will continue their work toward a digital database that firefighters can pull up on their fire truck laptops or mobile phones.
SolSmart is open to all cities and counties across the nation. “There may be another opportunity for other communities interested in becoming one of the over 300 SolSmart communities in the US, between now and the end of the year,” says Tazewell. “I would encourage communities to do what these three did. …They’re very close to each other. So there’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration. It’s also easier for a technical advisor to work with them because of their proximity.” Other communities seeking to join the program can be eligible for 100 hours of consulting with technical experts and more. To learn more visit SolSmart.org.