Solar Friendly Community Designations Reach 15:
Solar Friendly Communities, an innovative new program designed to bring down the costs of solar energy, has now certified 15 Colorado communities as Solar Friendly Communities, including all of the state's biggest cities. Westminster becomes the first to reach the highest level designation of platinum for its efforts to streamline solar permitting.
Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock accepted a plaque and a road sign in November 2012 to mark the first to win designation through its leading practices in making solar energy faster, easier and more affordable for residents.
Since then, the cities of Aurora, Lakewood, Fort Collins, Arvada, Nederland, Carbondale, Parker, Lafayette, Superior. Lyons, Goldenand Westminster have joined with Boulder County and the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, which regulates building in Colorado Springs, El Paso County and the smaller towns of the region. They all went through a process to streamline their solar approval process and earned enough points to win the designation as a bronze, silver or gold Solar Friendly Community. Other cities are working towards the recognition.
One of the biggest benefits of the program for residents is the Solar Friendly Communities Discount Program, which puts a monetary value on the streamlined permitting. Sixteen Colorado solar companies are offering discounts of $500 per system to residents in a certified solar friendly community. See a video about the program here
“We believe solar energy is an important part of our community’s future, and our hope is this recognition will lead to a variety of environmental and economic development benefits," Mayor Michael Hancock said.
Solar Friendly Communities was one of 22 teams around the nation awarded a Rooftop Solar Challenge I grant under the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative. The program was a collaborative effort led by the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association and included the Rocky Mountain Institute, the American Solar Energy Society, the City and County of Denver, Boulder County and the cities of Fort Collins and Golden. The grant ended in October 2013 and COSEIA is seeking new partners.
The program works to advance solar friendly practices around solar permitting and inspection, as well as to make communities more welcoming to solar energy. Cities and counties can earn up to 1600 “solar points” if they implement all of the suggested solar friendly practices, with recognition starting at 700 points. Denver, for example, scored 1275 points, a gold level recognition, because of the progressive policies it adopted including posting its requirements online, offering low-cost, same-day permits, streamlining inspections and providing a variety of educational materials about solar energy to residents.
“Denver provides a great model on how a large city can make it easy for solar installers to do business,’’ said Rebecca Cantwell, senior program director for Solar Friendly Communities. “The streamlined permitting, inspection and educational practices translate into lower costs for consumers and a more welcoming climate for solar energy."
Solar permitting and inspection requirements vary dramatically across Colorado’s more than 200 cities and towns, 64 counties and 65 utilities. The Solar Friendly Communities program aims to assist local governments by offering a menu of options that can help communities shave off extra time and cost while respecting each community’s unique needs.
Costs of the hardware of rooftop solar systems—such as panels—have dropped up to 70 percent in just three years. But the “soft’’ costs including permitting, installation, regulatory and other related costs have not dropped as fast and now account for up to 60 percent of the total cost of rooftop solar system.
According to a recent report by SunRun, local permitting and inspection processes add about $2,500 to the cost of each residential system. Streamlining processes and bringing those costs down will bring down the cost of solar.
For more information: www.solarcommunities.org