Solar panels in a green field.

The Path to Designation

Whether you’re a city or town, county, or regional organization, the SolSmart technical assistance team is here to help you accelerate solar energy growth.

The SolSmart designation criteria are based on established best practices that encourage the growth of solar energy at the local level. SolSmart provides clear guidance and templates to help jurisdictions put these practices into action.

The SolSmart Standard Criteria pathway is organized into five categories: Permitting and Inspection, Planning and Zoning, Government Operations, Community Engagement, and Market Development. Within each category are specific actions that municipalities, counties, and regional organizations can take to encourage local solar energy use.

Some of the criteria are prerequisites, while others are elective. Each criteria has a corresponding point value. Upon meeting the prerequisites and reaching a sufficient number of points in each category, a participant qualifies for SolSmart designation. This flexible process allows a local government to select a plan that is best tailored to their community.

In March 2023, SolSmart updated the designation criteria to reflect current best practices, as determined by an advisory committee of experts in solar energy and local government. SolSmart also announced a new Platinum designation to recognize communities with exceptional solar energy achievements. Details on updated criteria are available in the new SolSmart Program Guides.

Since the SolSmart criteria are updated periodically, local governments designated in previous years may have met a slightly different list of criteria. The SolSmart team will work with them to update these records if they are interested in moving to a higher level of designation.

Designation Pathways

A local government or regional organization will follow one of three designation pathways, depending on what processes are available in their jurisdiction. A technical assistance provider will work with you to determine the appropriate pathway.

Standard Criteria

 Local governments that control permitting, inspection, planning, and zoning use the Standard Designation Criteria. Most communities use this pathway.


Modified or County Criteria

Local governments that do not control permitting, inspection, planning, and/or zoning use the Modified/County Designation Criteria. This criteria is appropriate for certain counties that do not have control over one or more of those processes.


Regional Organization Criteria

Regional organizations are eligible for SolSmart designation. Multi-jurisdictional organizations such as regional councils or councils of government use the Regional Organization Designation Criteria.

SolSmart Program Guides

If you’re ready to learn more about the Application Criteria, download the SolSmart Program Guides now.  Separate Program Guides are available for the Standard Pathway, Modified Pathway, and Regional Pathway. The guides include a complete list of the criteria under each category, the points awarded, and resources and templates for achieving each.

Download Program Guides

Standard Pathway Criteria by Category

Permitting and Inspection (PI)

28 Credits | 275 Points
Most local governments have direct oversight of the permitting and inspection policies and procedures within their jurisdiction. Communities that implement permitting best practices provide solar developers and installers with a transparent, efficient, and cost-effective approval process. Well-trained staff and simplified permit applications can reduce staff time needed to review permits which allows them to focus on other priorities. Clear inspection procedures ensure compliance with applicable state and local codes while protecting public health and safety. Many of the criteria in the permitting and inspection category can be verified by providing information in a detailed permitting checklist. Verification of trainings for permitting and inspection staff and documented improvements to inspection processes are also part of ensuring a transparent and efficient permitting and inspection process.

Planning and Zoning (PZ)

26 Credits | 215 Points
Local government planning and zoning regulations can help facilitate the rapid expansion of solar energy and associated technologies, including energy storage and electric vehicles, within a community. Communities can utilize planning and zoning regulations to increase opportunities for rooftop and ground-mounted solar energy while also advancing other community goals including affordable housing, economic development, clean transportation and the protection of natural and cultural resources. Plans should set forth a vision for the community’s clean energy future, while zoning codes should provide clear and transparent regulations on the development and use of solar energy within the jurisdiction. Many of the criteria in the planning and zoning category can be verified by providing a link to a community’s codes, ordinances, and community plans.

Government Operations (GO)

14 Credits | 185 Points
Local governments can lead the way by installing solar energy on public facilities and land. Communities can engage with their local utility to discuss goals for solar energy, net metering, interconnection, and community solar. These actions are high impact and can directly lead to an increase in solar energy deployment. Many of the criteria in the government operations category can be verified by providing documents demonstrating installed solar capacity such as news articles about solar installations, dashboards/metrics showing solar production, and contracts that demonstrate solar project construction.

Community Engagement (CE)

13 Credits | 90 Points
Local governments can be an important and trusted source of information for residents, businesses, and solar installers. Providing clear, high-quality information, public education and inclusive engagement opportunities can help residents and businesses interested in solar energy make informed decisions. Local governments can support more equitable outcomes by partnering with community organizations and developing goals and strategies that meet the needs of disadvantaged communities. Many of the criteria in the community engagement category can be verified by providing information about a community’s solar energy goals, strategies and partnerships on a local government’s solar webpage.

Market Development (MD)

10 Credits | 155 Points
Local governments can collaborate and partner with organizations to promote solar development within their jurisdiction. Supporting a community solar program, promoting a solarize group-buy campaign, or partnering with a local financial institution can make solar energy more affordable and accessible for homes and businesses while improving business opportunities for solar installers. Many of the criteria in the market development category can be verified by providing news articles about the local government’s role in supporting solar development or by providing official documents that established policies or programs.

Points Chart: Achieving SolSmart Designation

There are four levels of SolSmart designation for local governments. Below are the requirements for each level under the Standard Criteria pathway. Complete details on each criteria can be found in the SolSmart Program Guide.
Bronze Level Badge

3 Prerequisite Criteria

  • Complete the Solar Statement (PR-1)
  • Complete Solar Permitting Checklist (PI-1)
  • Complete Zoning Review (PZ-1)

60 Total Points

  • 20 points in Permitting and Inspection
  • 20 points in Planning and Zoning
  • 20 points from remaining categories