The Road To SolSmart Gold: Charleston County, South Carolina

County officials post with their SolSmart Bronze plaque.

Charleston County has earned its place in the SolSmart “hall of fame” as one of the first SolSmart designees in the U.S. Southeast. As the county achieved Bronze, Silver, and then Gold designations, county staff worked to streamline solar processes and organize resources to make going solar faster, simpler, and more transparent for residents and businesses alike. SolSmart presented a great opportunity for the county to combine efforts, work as a team, and make effective plans to achieve solar-related goals.

Carter McMillan, the county’s Community Relations Specialist, and Kevin Limehouse, Operations Officer, led the county’s efforts toward a SolSmart designation. According to Limehouse, Charleston County’s SolSmart achievement was a milestone attainment for the community and the surrounding region. During the designation process, Limehouse and McMillan noticed that many solar-related processes were already in place but were often siloed into different efforts and offices. The SolSmart process ensured that these various efforts were streamlined and improved.

Zach Greene, program director at The Solar Foundation, served as the SolSmart technical assistance provider, and the team benefited from his extensive solar knowledge and experience working with other communities. “Zach was able to translate the technical aspects of the application into a clear and easy step-by-step process. He stayed with us from start to finish, ensuring a smooth path to SolSmart Gold,” McMillan recounted.

From Zach’s point of view, the county’s success was ensured by its strong team of solar champions on staff. The strength of the team was what made the community successful: “When you have a team that is committed and dedicated to this cause, it makes earning designation much easier. It also allows a community to gain significant benefits from program resources. I think that’s where Charleston County shines. Their staff are devoted to the community, work for the benefit of all county residents, and see solar as something that could be extremely beneficial.”

To organize and streamline the county’s solar processes and submit a successful SolSmart application, collaboration across offices was needed. Limehouse and McMillan worked with the Building Inspection Services office, the Planning Department, and the Facilities Department. The SolSmart designation was a goal that galvanized and guided the group.

To achieve designation, the county met key SolSmart criteria for making it faster, easier, and more affordable to go solar. This included creating an online permitting checklist; reviewing local zoning codes and identifying any restrictions to solar development; allowing solar by-right accessory use in all zones; cross-training both inspection and permitting staff on solar PV; and providing a streamlined permitting pathway for small solar PV systems, among other actions.

In addition to undertaking new activities, the county was able to receive points for actions that the offices had already taken. For example, a solar installation on the roof of the county’s detention center earned the community points in the Market Development and Finance category. When the team achieved the Bronze, Silver, and then Gold designations, each success was a triumph of the entire county team.

Because of these efforts, the team put together a straightforward permitting and inspection process for community members interested in going solar, ensuring that the process was as transparent and simple as possible. Work to make this information publicly accessible not only earned the county points under SolSmart, but was also in line with the county’s values of protecting and informing community members.

When defining the county’s goals for the future, Limehouse said, “Our primary goal is to keep helping citizens. Charleston county is growing, and we want to make sure we can share our resources with all community members and help them with their solar needs.”

Learn more about  Charleston County’s SolSmart status and efforts.