MREA was chosen by The Solar Foundation to be a state-wide SolSmart advisor. The SolSmart program is designed to help communities address “solar soft costs.” If panels, racking, and wiring are the hard costs, then the soft costs are things like business processes or administrative costs that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system — costs which are then passed on to solar customers.
To become designated, communities must work to complete milestones from specific categories (such as permitting; planning, zoning, and development; market development and finance; community engagement, inspection, etc.) that ultimately make it easier and faster to "go solar" in their community.
MREA served as a SolSmart Advisor from May 2017 through August 2018. In that time, MREA helped several Montana communities successfully achieve designation and positioned several others to achieve designation in the coming year. Program highlights include hosting "Solar-ease" workshops for Missoula, Missoula County, and Whitefish to educate residents on the community-specific requirements and processes they need to follow to install solar at home or at their business. The presentations also covered key policy considerations and financing options.
MREA staff also worked with colleagues at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado to take a deep dive into planning and zoning codes to look for ways to make them more solar friendly. In addition, we helped develop checklists for community members that detail exactly what steps, permitting fees, and other considerations they need to be aware of in order to go solar.
MREA engaged with the following communities:
- City of Bozeman – working towards designation
- City of Helena – Achieved SolSmart Silver!
- City of Missoula – Achieved SolSmart Silver! (Find out more on their Solar Landing page)
- City of Red Lodge – working towards designation. (Find out more on their Solar Landing page)
- City of Whitefish – Achieved SolSmart Bronze!
- Missoula County – Achieved SolSmart Bronze! (Find out more on their Solar Landing page)
If you are interested in getting your community involved, please reach out to MREA!
More about the program
SolSmart is a national designation program, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative through the Solar Powering America by Recognizing Communities (SPARC) initiative, designed to recognize communities that have taken key steps to address local barriers to solar energy and foster the growth of mature local solar markets. While only certain local government procedures (such as permitting, planning, and zoning) are the source of some soft costs, local governments are in a unique position to reduce soft costs and take action to promote the use of solar locally.