Leveraging the Strengths of Regional Organizations to Advance Solar Markets

Going solar at the local level can be a challenge, but regional organizations can help make this a reality.

BLOG POST | Mar 11, 2019
Engineer on top of solar panels

by Maria Ibarra Rodriguez, intern, global program management, ICMA

Regional organizations have the ability to convene, coordinate, and foster collaboration among municipalities and counties. These abilities, along with other capabilities, make regional organizations uniquely positioned to help make it faster, easier, and more affordable for city and county constituents to go solar. As a result, SolSmart, a program managed by ICMA and The Solar Foundation, launched a new designation pathway that would allow regional organizations to earn recognition for helping local governments go solar.

Regional organizations can help address some of the main targets of the SolSmart program: permitting and planning barriers for solar. Onerous permitting and planning at the local level can add costs and time to solar projects and increase staff time in processing and approving  permits. To address these issues, among other barriers to going solar, regional organizations are now eligible for no-cost technical assistance from SolSmart. A network of national experts can help review local and regional plans, identify barriers for solar, and plan a path forward in the SolSmart program. Additionally, technical assistance can help regional organizations leverage their strengths to advance solar.

  • Convening: The structure of regional organizations and jurisdictions allow them to bring together multiple stakeholders that have a shared vision and goal.
  • Partnerships: Regional organizations should partner with nonprofit community organizations, academic institutions, and private sector to stay relevant and avoid duplication of efforts.
  • Collaboration: Establishing partnerships and convening stakeholders allows regional organizations to easily gauge if efforts are being duplicated and where resources can be leveraged for collective impact.
  • Leading by Example: It is important for regional organizations to demonstrate interest and effort on the projects and initiatives that are in development or being implemented to foster support.

The Metropolitan Council, also known as Met Council, in St. Paul, Minnesota, was the first regional organization to be designated under the new pathway and earned Silver designation. To earn designation, the Met Council has tackled numerous solar initiatives, including providing guidance on solar PV planning, zoning, and development of best practices to communities and counties in their region through workshops and online resources. They also developed a comprehensive solar landing page that shares the region's solar goals and local resources for solar development.

In January 2015, the Met Council also led the Governmental Solar Garden Subscriber Collaborative, a joint effort that included 31 local governments that sought to develop community solar gardens to create an opportunity for residents and organizations to benefit from solar without installing it onsite. A year-and-a-half after launching the collaborative, 24 of the 31 local governments said they were moving to sign subscription agreements for community solar gardens amounting to a total of 33 MW of solar capacity added to the region. Cameran Bailey, solar technical and planning advisor at the Met Council, stated that the council's ability to lead by example in supporting the development of solar community gardens is in line with its mission, which is to “to foster efficient and economic growth for a prosperous region” and encourages other regional organizations to do the same.

To support regional organizations interested in advancing regional solar efforts in their cities and counties and become SolSmart designated, SolSmart will be hosting a webinar titled, "Developing and Promoting Solar at the Regional Level" on March 13, 2019, 2 pm to 3:30 pm ET. The webinar will cover solar best practices at the regional level, promoting and implementing effective local solar policies, benefits of regional harmonization of solar permitting and planning efforts, and how SolSmart is supporting regional organizations dedicated to advancing solar. Click here to learn more and register for the webinar


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