The Department of Energy’s SolSmart program is expanding to provide free solar energy technical assistance to an additional 500 designated communities in the U.S., more than doubling the number of communities the program currently serves. The program aims to ease the “soft costs” of going solar by helping participants streamline processes such as zoning and permitting.
In accordance with the Biden administration’s Justice40 initiative, at least 200 of those new designees will be communities that the DOE considers underserved, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council said in a Friday press release. IREC leads SolSmart along with the International City/County Management Association.
The program provides “no-cost technical assistance to help local governments follow national best practices to expand solar energy use,” then designates participating communities ranks of platinum, gold, silver and bronze, according to the SolSmart website.
The platinum designation is new. It “recognizes local governments for cutting-edge achievements” such as instant online permitting and commitments to equitable access to solar energy, IREC’s release says.
In addition, IREC says the program is expanding its scope to better facilitate the clean energy transition by adopting new priorities such as innovative financing and battery storage.
SolSmart is funded by the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office. In 2021 it expanded its focus to include rural and low-income communities after receiving $10 million in additional funding for administration. IREC and ICMA each received $5 million from DOE in 2022.
The program has so far assisted 488 local governments in the U.S. and its territories, which SolSmart’s website says represent more than 134 million people.
Larry Sherwood, IREC’s CEO, said in the group’s release that solar energy is “poised for unprecedented expansion” due to policies like the Inflation Reduction Act. “SolSmart will help local governments take advantage of this growth and ensure their own communities can benefit,” he said.