Applications Open for Third Round of SolSmart Advisors

We are pleased to announce the opening of the application process for the third round of SolSmart Advisors. SolSmart Advisors provide no-cost, hands-on technical assistance in communities that are selected through this competitive application process. Each Advisor works in a community or region full-time for approximately six months.

Advisors present a unique opportunity to communities and regions interested in accelerating the advancement of solar energy. Our previous Advisors have assisted communities in launching Solarize campaigns, modeling solar installations on government buildings, streamlining solar permitting processes, and much more.

The open Advisor application is separated into two pathways. The appropriate pathway is determined by the lead applicant: 1) a local government; or 2) an organization. Applications are due by June 4, 2018.

1) Community-Based Application

This application is for local governments (cities, counties, villages, towns, etc.) that want to apply to host a SolSmart Advisor for themselves and/or a group of communities. The lead local government applicant, which we call the “Host Community,” will complete the community-based application. The most competitive applications will include a partnership between two or more communities (a “cohort”), with a larger number of communities being preferable.

Usually, the Host Community will provide the physical office where the SolSmart Advisor works. Alternatively, the Host Community may nominate a local organization at which the Advisor could have a work space, if that is preferable. The Host Community will manage and work with the Advisor to ensure their community earns designation, along with any other communities listed on the application. SolSmart staff will provide additional project management and technical assistance to support the Advisor engagement.

Through this application process, SolSmart expects to award five (5) communities/cohorts the opportunity to host an Advisor. After Host Communities are selected in June 2018, SolSmart will work collaboratively with the awardees to interview and hire SolSmart Advisors. Alternatively, Host Communities may nominate a specific person to serve as their Advisor as part of their application. Candidates selected as Advisors will attend a training in late 2018 and begin work in their respective Host Communities in January 2019.

If you are interested in learning more, we encourage you to read the application and join one of the upcoming webinars (consult the schedule below).

2) Organization-Based RFP

This pathway is for organizations including, but not limited to, councils of government, regional planning commissions, community organizations, and energy and environmental nonprofits. Organizations interested in acting as Advisors will apply through an RFP. To complete their proposals, organizations will need to obtain buy-in from communities and include commitments in their proposed scopes of work. Organizations must demonstrate experience working with local governments. SolSmart prefers organizations with experience on solar-related issues, specifically those related to soft costs. Organizations would preferably use existing staff to serve communities, but there is also an opportunity to hire someone to serve as the Advisor if sufficient staff capacity does not exist.

To be competitive under this application, organizations should have a demonstrated track record of collaborating with communities. They should also possess relevant subject-matter expertise, existing staff capacity, and signed commitments from local governments wishing to be served by the organization. The most competitive applications will include the greatest number of communities, but this preference will be balanced with feasibility.

Through the organization-based RFP, SolSmart expects to select 6-15 organizations to serve as Advisors. The starting dates are flexible and could begin as early as July 2018, dependent on existing staff capacity and communities’ needs. SolSmart will provide awardees with training, as well as ongoing project management and technical assistance throughout their engagements.

SolSmart encourages interested organizations to review the RFP and join one of the upcoming webinars to learn more about the process (consult the schedule below).

Once again, applications for both pathways are due by June 4, 2018.

Webinar Schedule

Application Timeline for Both Pathways (subject to change)

RFP Questions and Answers
1. To apply to be an Advisor, do I have to sign up communities? Must I reach out to communities and collect their Solar Statements to participate?

A. Yes, applicants will need to obtain Solar Statements. The number of communities (which is calculated by number of signed statements) will be a criterion used in deciding which organizations receive funding.

2. Can an organization apply to help a community that has applied through the community-based application route?

A. No, but we do allow communities to nominate an Advisor. Therefore, a community could nominate an individual at an organization to serve as the Advisor. In this instance, the Advisor would receive the capped fee provided to all community-based pathway Advisors ($32,500) for an engagement lasting ~6 months.

3. Can all work with communities be done remotely?

A. Yes, Advisors can work remotely during this round. However, SolSmart will probably try to incorporate travel funds into finalized budgets so Advisors can visit their communities.

4. Can one staff person manage multiple communities? How many communities can a single staff person handle?

A. Yes, a single staff person can handle multiple communities at once. Most of the Advisors in the second round had at least 4 communities for which they were responsible. It’s difficult to say what’s manageable, but previous Advisors have worked with up to 15 communities at once (although many had at two, part-time staff working on the project). A significant number of SolSmart actions require community staff to undertake efforts on their own, therefore Advisors are not constantly working with certain communities.

5. Is there an hour requirement associated with being an Advisor? How many hours should we expect to spend on the project?

A. No, SolSmart uses an outcome-based approach, as opposed to an hour requirement. The amount of time will be dependent on the number of communities involved in a cohort. We’ve had previous organizational Advisors use ~65-100 hours of staff time in a month, with others coming in above and below (with variation month-over-month). Most organizations add this program on top of their ongoing work, as it isn’t required to be a full-time commitment.

6. Is the $20,000-$50,000 anticipated budget range per organization or per community served?

A. This budget amount is per organization, and it should cover the cost of the entire engagement.

7. Can an organization request in excess of the $20,000-$50,000 budget range references in the RFP?

A. Yes, applicants can request in excess of that amount, and this will not automatically disqualify an application. However, the amount requested should be balanced by other factors, including scope of work, communities served, and feasibility. Also, the proposed budget is a criterion used in determining the organizations that receive funding, so it should be competitive.

8. Can organizations partner on a single proposal?

A. Yes, there are no limitations to partnering on a proposal. However, if organizations partner, they should provide context as to why this partnership will better serve communities.

9. Can I for-profit entities submit a proposal?

A. Yes, for-profit entities are eligible to apply through the RFP process.

10. Will my proposal be at a disadvantage if my organization needs to hire another staff member to serve as the Advisor?

A. No, applicants will not be at a disadvantage for needing to hire another staff member to serve as the Advisor. Although SolSmart prefers that organizations have existing staff to serve in this role, it is not a requirement, nor does it provide any added benefit to a proposal. It does, however, alter the budgetary component, as an applicant would need to factor compensation for the new staff into the budget.

11. Can my organization apply again if we served as an Advisor in a previous round?

A. Yes.

12. Our organization is managing a large group of communities that is responding to the RFP. What is the best way for us to track which communities have submitted their solar statement (PR-1) and designation application?

A. If a community completes the online form, their application will be emailed straight to SolSmart. The community will also receive confirmation, but the community will not get a copy of its submittal.

Here are three potential ways to track SolSmart submittals:

1. You can ask communities to forward you the confirmation email. Then, you can contact SolSmart to request a copy of the applications.

2. You can contact SolSmart with all the communities that intend to submit applications and SolSmart can provide a community’s materials as they are submitted.

3. You can ask communities to complete the pdf application, as opposed to the online version, and then email it to you, along with their solar statement (PR-1), for inclusion in your proposal.

13. How many organizations were chosen to host Advisors in the previous round? How much interest or competition do you expect with this round of applications?

A. In the previous round we received proposals from 18 organizations. These proposals were accompanied with a wide range of community partners (4+), with the chosen Advisors helping around 5-10 (with some helping more). It is unclear how many proposals we will see this round. Although we’ve received interest, it is hard to gauge the true number of interested parties until we start receiving proposals.

14. Does population matter or factor into the evaluation of an application? Does it matter what types of communities (i.e. rural, urban, or suburban) comprise the cohort?

A. The population and type of community (i.e. rural, urban, or suburban) do not play a factor in scoring; the number of communities is the key factor, as that is the basis for our programmatic goals.

15. The RFP emphasizes the importance of applicant experience in providing technical assistance to local governments. We have extensive expertise in clean energy policy, but we have not developed programs focused solely around local government plans, ordinances and procedures. Are the scoring elements designed to favor organizations that have already been part of these efforts, and if so, should try to partner with such an organization?

A. We do not expect Advisors to necessarily have a complete understanding of all aspects of local government and the tools they can use to affect solar deployment. Training for Advisors will be available through SolSmart, and you will have the support of the program’s other TA providers. You are welcome to submit a proposal in which you partner with another organization if you believe it will make the proposal more competitive.

16. While the program is clearly designed to provide technical assistance (TA) to local governments through the application process for SolSmart designation, local governments’ interest in clean energy is often broader than just solar. To what degree can the Advisor provide communities with TA on a wider array of clean energy subjects such as energy efficiency and sustainability planning?

A. As an Advisor, there are two main constraints around your efforts – 1) the Advisor must prioritize the actions necessary to achieve designation and 2) all work must be related to solar PV in some capacity. Therefore, EE-only work is not supported by the grant, but if there is a solar PV component of that work, which also correlates with a SolSmart action, then it’s allowable.

17. Are we allowed to serve as a sub-contractor to another organization that could lead this effort? If so, how should we explain this partnership on our application?

A. Yes, you can partner with other organizations, and it would be best to provide an explanation in the proposal. Further discussion related to this would occur in the contractual phase, if you’re selected.