SolSmart Program Aims to Help Another 500 Cities, Towns, Counties, and Regional Organizations Become Solar Energy Leaders

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced an expansion of its SolSmart program to support and recognize local governments across the country who are taking steps to reduce barriers to solar energy access. The expanded program adds a new Platinum-level designation level for the most forward-looking communities, establishes new priorities around support for disadvantaged communities, and sets a goal of designating a total of 1,000 communities by 2027 in support of the Biden administration's goal of a clean electricity grid by 2035. The program has also extended its designation criteria to include solar plus battery storage, codes and standards, innovative financing, and data collection and metrics.

"Local governments across the country are looking to solar power to cut energy costs and transform their energy futures," said Alejandro Moreno, acting assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "This is why the SolSmart program is so important. It reduces barriers to solar energy by giving communities the tools to equitably deploy solar and enjoy the many benefits including household savings, job creation, resilience, and more."

"Through the once in-a-generation funding for municipalities provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, municipal leaders are playing a critical role in leading our nation toward a clean energy future, an essential part of addressing climate change," NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony said. “NLC is committed to actively supporting cities, towns, and villages in the equitable installation of local, distributed renewable energy."

Launched in 2016, the SolSmart program offers expert technical assistance at no cost to help local governments adopt nationally recognized best practices to advance solar energy adoption. Since its inception, SolSmart has helped hundreds of local governments and their residents save time and money by reducing the soft costs of going solar which span five criteria categories including permitting and inspection, planning and zoning, government operations, community engagement, and market development.

Today, nearly 500 local governments nationwide have achieved SolSmart designation at one of three levels (Gold, Silver, or Bronze) based on their level of accomplishment. These local governments are in 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. With its plan for an additional 500 designees by 2027, SolSmart plans to double its impact.

A cornerstone of the program's efforts is to further the goals of the federal Justice40 initiative to provide equitable opportunities for underserved communities, which tend to have higher household energy burden, environmental and climate impacts, and socio-economic vulnerabilities. Of the 500 new designees, at least 40% will be in underserved communities.

To be recognized as Platinum, a local government must earn a total of 350 points across five categories and complete certain pre-requisites, including offering an instant online permitting tool for rooftop solar—such as the SolarAPP+ platform developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory—and must implement partnerships and programs designed to enable the benefits of solar energy to be shared by all members of their community.   

SolSmart's updated and expanded designation criteria address new areas, such as:

  • Integration of solar with other technologies, such as battery storage
  • Equitable access to solar energy
  • Updating local codes
  • Data collection and metrics to measure community progress
  • Innovative financing programs for solar energy
  • Community planning for large-scale solar installations

SolSmart is led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and the International City County Management Association (ICMA), along with numerous other partner organizations with expertise in solar energy and local government. Funded by the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), this team helps local governments and regional organizations implement national best practices that reduce local barriers to solar energy development.

"Solar energy is poised for unprecedented expansion across the United States due to groundbreaking policies such as the Inflation Reduction Act," said Larry Sherwood, president and CEO at IREC. "SolSmart will help local governments take advantage of this growth and ensure their own communities can benefit."

"ICMA has assisted thousands of communities across the country through our programs over the years. Our team of expert technical assistance providers is ready to help local governments take actions to scale up solar deployment and meet their energy and climate goals," said Marc Ott, executive director of ICMA.

SolSmart invites all cities, towns, counties, and regional organizations in the U.S. to contact the program and begin receiving no-cost technical assistance to achieve designation. For those communities that are already SolSmart-designated, the program invites them to "level up" to designation as Silver, Gold, or Platinum.