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City of Harrisonburg’s solar status upgraded from bronze to silver designation

Crystal Graham
solsmart silver sign Harrisonburg Virginia
Submitted photo

The City of Harrisonburg is continuing its work to advance solar market growth to protect the region’s environment, and its hard work is paying off.

The city was recently recognized with the SolSmart silver designation. The city earned the bronze-level designation in 2022.

Harrisonburg staff worked with SolSmart’s technical assistance team to increase local understanding of solar energy so the entire community can benefit.

The city’s 2043 vision plan calls for Harrisonburg to prioritize protection of natural assets such as air, streams, mountains, trees and open space in part through investments in sustainable assets and infrastructure.

Additionally, the city’s environmental action plan outlines steps the city can take to implement sustainability visions and principles within the organization.

“We are excited for the advancement of SolSmart designation from bronze to silver. The silver status celebrates Harrisonburg’s support and participation in more sustainable practices by making it easier for the community to access these renewable energy resources,” said Harrisonburg Public Works Sustainability and Environmental Manager Keith Thomas. “Participation in these efforts and programs make a positive impact on our environment and helps reduce our carbon footprint.”

After the successful completion of solar panel installation to Harrisonburg City Public Schools central office and Bluestone Elementary earlier this year, Harrisonburg’s Public Works Department is looking forward to the installation of solar panels on the new administration building that is currently under construction.

The city plans to continue partnerships with organizations such as the Local Energy Alliance Program and Solar United Neighbors on their solar campaigns and continue participation in promotional opportunities at local events such as the annual JMU Rocktown Energy Festival.

The city’s building inspections staff plan to refresh their training every two years with a goal of making it as easy as possible to obtain permits to install roof mounted solar arrays while maintaining adherence to relevant codes.

Steps to the silver SolSmart designation

Nearly 500 cities, towns, counties and regional organizations have achieved SolSmart designation since the program launched in 2016. To receive designation, organizations make changes to their local processes to reduce the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system. This includes evaluating local permitting and inspection processes, as well as planning and zoning procedures.

  • The city first achieved SolSmart bronze designation after forming local and regional partnerships with other agencies interested in sustainability, and creating a solar webpage that featured an updated permitting process and the rollout of the SolarApp.
  • The advancement to silver was achieved by taking additional steps that include having community development department building inspections staff complete training suggested by the SolSmart program that increased their knowledge of solar plan review and inspections.
  • A zoning determination letter that clarifies staff’s interpretation of where solar PV can be installed by right is now posted on the city’s website.

SolSmart is led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and the International City/County Management Association and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.