The initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Lower Merion Township is among eight Delaware Valley municipalities to have recently joined SolSmart, a national program providing official recognition and expert assistance to help communities expand solar energy development. Participation in SolSmart helps these communities to take steps to grow the local solar market by making it more affordable for residents and businesses, while encouraging new economic development and jobs.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s “SunShot Initiative,” SolSmart recognizes communities that adopt programs and practices that cut red tape and lower the costs of going solar. SolSmart is administered by a team of national experts led by The Solar Foundation andthe International City/County Management Association (ICMA).
“SolSmart grants designation to cities and counties at the gold, silver, and bronze levels,” the company announced in a statement. “Designation is based on a system of prerequisites and points that shows communities have met uniform, national criteria for encouraging solar market growth.”
Joining Lower Merion in the program are the townships of Cheltenham, Edgmont, and Upper Merion; the cities of Philadelphia and Chester, and the boroughs of Media and Pottstown.
To receive SolSmart designation, communities must take action to reduce solar“soft costs,” defined as non-hardware expenses that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system. Reducing these soft costs leads to savings that are passed on to consumers. Examples include planning and zoning; permitting, interconnection, and inspection; financing; customer acquisition; and installation labor.
SolSmart provides no-cost technical assistance from a team of local and national solar experts to help municipalities achieve designation. These experts assist communities seeking to adopt programs and processes that will lower soft costs and encourage solar energy growth. Lower Merion and these other seven communities also applied and were awarded SolSmart Advisors to provide personalized, one-on-one technical assistance. The advisors, who are employees of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), are currently working to help these communities achieve designation as quickly as possible.
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. It would simplify the permit application and inspection process at the local level and reduce costs for permit holders. Guidance on solar matters would come from DVRPC and other outside agencies.
Once a solar building permit application checklist is developed and approved, it will be posted on the Township website.