In January, Chatham County recently received notice that it earned the highest designation, a Gold Award, from the national SolSmart Program for making it faster, easier, and more affordable for homes and businesses to use solar energy. Chatham joins Asheville and Carrboro as the only local governments in the state that currently have earned the Gold Award.
According to SolSmart, “This designation recognizes Chatham County for taking important steps to encourage solar energy growth and remove obstacles to solar development. A SolSmart Gold designation is a signal that Chatham open for solar business.”
Interim County Manager Dan LaMontagne said, “We are excited to know that our efforts to be solar-friendly have allowed us to earn this recognition. Our departments have worked hard to make it as simple as possible for residents and businesses to install a solar energy system.”
SolSmart recognized Chatham County for the following actions:
- Creating an online permitting checklist that increased transparency for community members and solar installers;
- Reviewing local zoning codes and identifying restrictions that intentionally or unintentionally prohibit solar photovoltaic (PV) installations;
- Making changes so that all land use zones will allow solar installations without special permits or public hearings;
- Cross-training both inspection and permitting staff on solar PV systems; and
- Providing a streamlined permitting pathway for small PV systems.
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) technology converts sunlight into direct current electricity using semiconductors. When the sun hits semiconductors on a solar panel, electrons are freed and generate an electric current. Solar panels are the most widely used way to collect sun energy.
To receive the Gold Award designation, SolSmart reviews changes local governments have made to local processes that reduce the time and money needed to have a solar energy system. This includes evaluating local permitting processes, as well as planning and zoning procedures.
SolSmart is led by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. More than 200 cities, counties, and small towns have achieved SolSmart designation since the program launched in 2016.
SolSmart uses objective criteria to award communities points based on the actions they take to reduce barriers to solar energy development. Communities that take sufficient action are designated either gold, silver, or bronze.
As part of the SolSmart program, a team of national experts provides free technical assistance to help communities achieve the designation. All cities and counties are eligible to join the SolSmart program, which qualifies them for technical assistance. Find out more at SolSmart.org.
Chatham County participated in this program as part of their plan to develop an RFP to solarize county buildings.