Resources and Success Stories for Cities Going Solar
Last week, we co-hosted a webinar with Environment America and National League of Cities titled Resources and Success Stories for Cities Going Solar, where we learned about steps cities are taking to expand solar energy locally. Several local officials from across the country gave insightful presentations about establishing their solar goals, ways that communities can reduce hurdles to solar development, and local solar initiatives. These local officials included:
- Natalie Meyer, Sustainability Program Manager from the city of Bozeman, Montana
- Chris Castro, Director of Sustainability from SolSmart Gold community Orlando, Florida
- Steven A. Cox, City Attorney and Lowell Crow, City Manager from the city of Freeport, Illinois
Overall, the webinar provided a fascinating look at why these communities wanted to go solar, what goals they set, and what steps they took to achieve these goals. We look forward to continuing the conversation about how communities are becoming more solar-ready. Check out the recorded full-length webinar if you’d like to learn more!
Bozeman has worked for years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote efficiency, and advance renewable energy. As a result, it adopted and implemented various initiatives like the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement and a Climate Action Plan. The city believes solar energy is a centerpiece of how the city can achieve its goals, so it has focused on two key areas to advance solar: the development code and community solar.
The city of Bozeman wants to make it as easy as possible to go solar within the community. To achieve this, the city made several changes to the zoning and development code, such as:
- Describing solar as an essential service allowed in all zoning districts
- Exempting solar from height restrictions up to 15 feet
- Permitting rooftop solar on historic buildings when it integrates into the overall design
Community Solar: The Bozeman Solar project
The city of Bozeman believes community solar is a solution to a common problem: roughly half of all residential and commercial rooftops nationwide are unsuitable for solar PV due to shading, direction of roof slope, or because they are rented rather than owned. Community solar allows participants to buy or lease solar from a centralized location in place of their own rooftops. Using a centralized location also means there are clear economies of scale.
In 2016, the city decided to site the Bozeman Solar project, the city’s pilot community solar project, at the local wastewater plant. The key goal for the project was to help the local utility evaluate long-term sustainable models for the integration of renewables into the grid and develop a rate for community solar using generation and customer use data. Reasons for locating the project at the wastewater plant included:
- It was the most energy-intensive city facility
- It had a lot of open spaces around it with solar access
- It had close-proximity to substations
- It had limited impact on residential view sheds
- There were no current or planned intensive uses of the land
The Bozeman Solar project has proven to be very cost-effective. When first installed, it produced power at $1.80 per watt. For a residential solar system, the national average was $3.69 per watt.
The state of Illinois passed the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) in December of 2016, which requires 25 percent of the state’s investor-owned utilities’ energy come from wind and solar by 2025. This motivated the city of Freeport to become a statewide leader in solar, embracing new technologies and strategies to promote solar development. Freeport also sought to assure residents and developers of a streamlined, criteria-based solar permitting process.
Steps Taken by the City of Freeport to become ‘Solar-Ready’
- Freeport officials met with community members to identify the need for and interest in solar.
- Freeport officials had a conversation with SolSmart on ways to improve programs and practices to encourage solar development. The city drafted a solar statement outlining its solar goals.
- Freeport officials engaged with the zoning board of appeals, planning commission, building commission, construction professionals, and community members to make its zoning and development codes solar-friendly.
- Freeport officials drafted and adopted a solar standard that allows PV development in all zones as a permitted use, subject to specified design and installation standards.
- Currently, Freeport officials are developing an action plan to implement additional solar-friendly measures and strategies to achieve SolSmart designation.
Orlando, like other communities in Florida, faced challenges that reduced the financial benefits of adopting solar and other renewable energy.
How Orlando Overcame Barriers
Despite these challenges, Orlando wanted to become a leader on renewable energy because the state has strong solar potential. As a result, Orlando passed a bill to move the city to 100% renewable electricity by 2050 and have all city operations powered by renewables by 2030. To help achieve these goals, Orlando:
- Participated in SolSmart to reduce the “soft-cost” barriers to solar energy growth. SolSmart helped Orlando train planning and permitting staff and develop a solar permitting guide, among other improvements.
- Required all city buildings meet LEED Silver standards and be considered ‘Solar-Ready’ following National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) standards.
- Created a competitive Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) marketplace, which provides funding for residential and commercial customers. PACE provides upwards of $500 million of capital in Orlando alone to make clean energy, energy efficiency, and Hurricane protection improvements.
- Developed a collective solar program with the local utility, which makes it easier for homeowners to put solar PV panels on their rooftops due to a streamlined application process, group discounts, and affordable solar financing.
To learn more about the steps cities such as Bozeman, MT; Freeport, IL; and Orlando, FL, are taking to become more solar-friendly, check out our Resources page with national best practices guides on topics like permitting, market development, community engagement, and planning, zoning, and development.