Harrisonburg recognized for bold steps to encourage solar energy growth

Harrisonburg recognized for bold steps to encourage solar energy growth

Crystal Graham

solmart harrisonburgHarrisonburg has received a bronze designation from the national SolSmart program for making it faster, easier and more affordable for homes and businesses in the city to go solar.

This designation recognizes Harrisonburg for taking bold steps to encourage solar energy growth and remove obstacles to solar development. For companies looking to expand, a SolSmart bronze designation is a signal that Harrisonburg is “open for solar business.”

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. More than 450 cities, counties and small towns have achieved SolSmart designation since the program launched in 2016.

“SolSmart designation is a great step forward for the city,” said Keith Thomas, Harrisonburg public works sustainability and environmental manager. “We are working to reduce barriers and provide access to information so more of our residents and businesses can explore their options to go solar.”

As a SolSmart designee, Harrisonburg is helping solar companies reduce the cost of installations and pass those savings on to consumers, according to a news release. This allows even more local homes and businesses to obtain affordable, clean and reliable electricity through solar. The actions Harrisonburg has taken will help encourage solar companies to do business in the area, driving economic development and creating local jobs.

To receive designation, cities and counties 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. SolSmart designees also develop innovations in areas such as community engagement, government operations and solar market development.

One example of improvement is the partnership with the Local Energy Alliance Program and Solar United Neighbors on their solar campaigns. Harrisonburg also created a solar landing page, updated permitting process including the rollout of the SolarApp, and employee training for building and permitting officials.

SolSmart uses objective criteria to award communities points based on the actions they take to reduce barriers to solar energy development. Communities that take sufficient action are designated either gold, silver or bronze.

As part of the SolSmart program, a team of national experts provides no-cost technical assistance to help communities achieve designation.

Interested communities can learn more at SolSmart.org.

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.