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Counties Shine: A SolSmart Year in Review

Tags: Energy

As the sun sets on 2017, I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on the SolSmart program’s key successes this year. Specifically, I want to  highlight a few counties that are emerging as national leaders in  solar deployment and are fueling local job growth within the new energy sector. 

The SolSmart Initiative is a U.S. Department of Energy-funded community designation and technical assistance program supporting local governments as they strive to make solar energy cheaper and easier for community residents and businesses. With 3,069 county governments spanning the nation, America’s counties can play crucial roles in advancing solar including reducing ‘soft costs’ and ‘red tape’ of the solar onboarding process, community engagement and solar education, and solar energy investments on county government facilities.  

SolSmart in 2017

Throughout 2017, 27 counties attained SolSmart designation, bringing the total number of designated counties up to 31, spanning 13 states and representing a total population of over 22 million Americans.  Notably, 11 of these counties have been designated as “Gold”—the highest level of SolSmart community designation.  These counties are located in a variety of geographic regions and represent rural, suburban and urban communities with populations ranging from 4.2 million (Maricopa County, Ariz.) to 9,400 (Clear Creek County, Colo.). A full list of SolSmart-designated counties can be found below.  

Since 2015, NACo has organized and supported a wide-variety of outreach, education and recognition programming and content to raise awareness of the no-cost resources and national recognition available to counties through the SolSmart program.  This year, programming included: workshop sessions at both major NACo conferences; interactive webinars; blog posts; and a case study report publication.  

 

"Solar power is a great example of how Charleston County strives to be on the cutting edge of providing the best to our citizens.  This award is an excellent opportunity to shine a light on our efforts to provide citizens, businesses, and industry the best support and tools they need to invest in solar power."  -- Elliott Summey, Council Member, Charleston County, S.C. 

 

NACo Legislative Conference

During the 2017 NACo Legislative Conference (February 24—March 1) NACo hosted the educational workshop: Is Your County Solar Ready? Strategies for Removing Local Barriers to Solar Energy.   This workshop convened more than 60 county leaders to introduce them to the SolSmart program and illustrate the local government role in removing barriers solar energy., Speakers from the SolSmart Gold-designated counties of Charleston, S.C. and San Diego, Calif. also highlighted their best practices and strategies to support local solar deployment . At the conclusion of the session, NACo and our partners at The Solar Foundation announced a new round of SolSmart recognitions,  allowing attending officials from designated counties to be recognized among their county peers. 

A recording of this session can be found here:  http://www.naco.org/resources/your-county-solar-ready-strategies-removing-local-barriers-solar-energy-0 

 

 “Solar PV provides a variety of benefits to local governments, businesses and residents including: new jobs, improved air quality and public health, stabilization of a portion of electricity costs and abundant energy”—Roger Armstrong, Council Member, Summit County, Utah

 

NACo WIR Conference

During the spring of 2017, NACo conducted extensive SolSmart outreach, which included organizing the educational workshop Cultivating Energy: How Western Counties Can Leverage Natural Assets to Stimulate Local Economies at our Western Interstate Region Conference on May 24-26th in Deschutes County, Ore.  This session showcased best practices from Western counties that are investing in the renewable energy economy, including: Blaine County, Idaho; Sonoma County, Calif. (SolSmart Gold); and Delta County, Colo. (SolSmart Bronze). 

Presentations from this session can be found here: http://www.naco.org/sites/default/files/event_attachments/Cultivating%20Energy%20Presentation.pdf  

 

“Adams County continues to support the development of a strong renewable energy economy, including the development of solar resources across our county. Through the SolSmart program, the county has removed barriers to access for solar energy and made it easier for every home and business to go solar.” –Julia Ferguson, Sustainability Coordinator, Adams County, Colo.  

 

NACo Annual Conference

During the Resilient Counties Forum at the July 2017 NACo Annual Conference and Exposition in Franklin County, Ohio, we  announced the 15 new SolSmart county designees in front of 50 county peers,  partners and stakeholders.  Two of these 15—Sonoma County, Calif. & Pima County, Ariz.—were also announced as 1st and 2nd Place recipients, respectively, of the 2017 SolSmart County Challenge.  

More information on the 2017 Resilient Counties Forum can be found here: http://www.naco.org/events/cost-saving-strategies-improve-county-economic-and-energy-resilience-resilient-counties-forum 

Also released during the NACo Annual Conference was the report publication: Thinking SolSmart: County Strategies for Advancing Solar Energy, featuring case studies on: Summit County, Utah; Pima County, Ariz.; and Inyo County, Calif.  This publication can be found here:  http://www.naco.org/resources/thinking-solsmart-county-strategies-advancing-solar-energy-development  

 

 “I’m proud of our efforts to become national solar leaders in the green energy economy, and specifically solar energy.  We remain committed here in Franklin County to supporting environmental sustainability and jobs of the future.” –John O’Grady, Commissioner, Franklin County, Ohio 

 

Utilizing Solar Energy in Disaster Planning

To close out the year, NACo recently hosted the educational webinar Resilient Counties: Utilizing Solar Energy in Disaster Planning. This topic closely aligned  with both major themes of the Resilient Counties Advisory Board for this work year (July 2017 – July 2018):  disasters and new technologies. This webinar provided insight on energy technologies such as solar, storage and microgrids that counties can use to better prepare for and respond to natural disasters and other emergency scenarios. Speakers highlighted microgrid efforts in Montgomery County, Md., and presented an overview of a solar resilience toolkit developed by the City & County of San Francisco, Calif. 

A recording of this webinar can be found here:  http://www.naco.org/events/resilient-counties-utilizing-solar-energy-disaster-planning-and-recovery 

 

Full List of SolSmart Designated Counties

GOLD

  • Adams County, Colo.
  • Charleston County, S.C.
  • Clear Creek County, Colo.
  • County & City of Denver, Colo.
  • Jefferson County, Colo.
  • Johnson County, Iowa
  • Pima County, Ariz.
  • San Diego County, Calif.
  • Sonoma County, Calif.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Will County, Ill. 

SILVER

  • Boulder County, Colo.
  • Chisago County, Minn.
  • Harrison County, Miss.
  • Linn County, Iowa
  • Orange County, N.C.
  • Palm Beach County, Fla.
  • Stearns County, Minn.

BRONZE

  • Albemarle County, Va.
  • Athens-Clarke County, Ga.
  • Contra Costa County, Calif.
  • DeKalb County, Ga.
  • Delta County, Colo.
  • Franklin County, Ohio
  • Inyo County, Calif. 
  • Kane County, Ill.
  • Maricopa County, Ariz.
  • Marin County, Calif.
  • Miami-Dade County, Fla.
  • Summit County, Utah

SolSmart Counties in the News!  

Adams County, Colo. (SolSmart Gold)

Johnson County, Iowa (SolSmart Gold)

Will County, Illinois (SolSmart Gold)

Stearns County, Minn. (SolSmart Silver)

Albemarle County, Va. (SolSmart Bronze)

 

What’s Next for SolSmart in 2018? 

NACo is excited to continue our SolSmart content and programming in 2018 – and we look forward to recognizing many more counties for their forward-thinking efforts to ease the adoption of solar energy within their communities!  At the upcoming 2018 NACo Legislative Conference, we will host the workshop session Fueling Job Growth by Tapping into the New Energy Economy on March 5th which will highlight how counties are incorporating renewable energy into their economic & workforce development strategies. 

Additionally, we hope to provide more educational content on large or utility-scale solar development (often called ‘solar farms’) and county best practices in this realm, as we recognize that  counties’ are well-suited for this given their large geographical footprint.  We also hope to continue exploring the role of new energy technologies, such as solar, and their role in disaster planning and in building overall community resilience.

Have an idea or request for a focus area or question you’d like us to pursue or answer?  Don’t hesitate to reach out to us—we are here to provide support and education catered to counties’ needs! 

 

How Can Your County Be Involved with SolSmart? 

If your county has an interest in learning more about solar energy, receiving no-cost assistance from a team of solar experts, and being nationally recognized for key solar energy actions, please reach out to us at NACo and/or visit the newly redesigned SolSmart webpage: www.solsmart.org   

About Jack Morgan (Full Bio)

Program Manager for Community and Economic Development

Jack Morgan works as a Program Manager for Community and Economic Development in NACo's Community, Economic and Workforce Development practice area. He handles community and economic development, resilience and transportation grants and programs.