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Colorado's Solar-Friendly Communities Go National


The thousands of solar installers in Colorado – as in many other states – have a hard time developing energy regulation. As with most other green businesses, they are often small shops in a nascent industry.

Since the rules about rooftop solar are local (decided by towns or counties), more than half the cost of installation are now the “soft costs” of permitting and inspection, said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA).

But COSEIA's Solar Communities program has made strides so far in streamlining the installation process, offering a $500 discount for customers of participating companies. The organization now hopes to expand its program to the rest of the country.

Solar Communities is a program sponsored by a Department of Energy grant through the Sunshot Initiative and managed by COSEIA, which works directly with local governments to help them implement 12 best practices for rooftop solar. So far, Solar Communities has certified 16 communities in Colorado as “solar-friendly” cities, ranging from Denver to Lyons. This covers over half the population of the state.

"Solar is growing incredibly fast," said Cantwell. "Cities might not have the resources to deal with them, and companies (working in different towns) might have to learn 50 different ways of doing business.

"Right now, putting solar panels on your roof is almost as complicated as a whole custom-home addition," she continued. "But it should be as easy as getting a new furnace. It should almost be plug and play."

COSEIA's staff has done a great deal of outreach to local governments in order to make this happen: In some cities, the city council took action, while some towns in Colorado learned about the program from each other. "In each case, it took a champion," she said.

The form is easy to look at online, and towns can start getting recognized by following the first three of the best practices the team developed.

COSEIA's 12 Best Practices for Local Governments (important enough to list all of them!)

  1. Provide a checklist of all requirements for rooftop solar photovoltaics and solar thermal permitting in a single online location

  2. Offer a standard permit form that is eligible for streamlined review for standard residential or small commercial rooftop flush-mounted systems

  3. Offer electronic or over-the-counter submittal and review options for standard systems

  4. Issue permits within a specified time frame

  5. Charge actual costs for permits and inspections with a cap on the total

  6. Replace community-specific solar licenses, if required, with standard certification for installers

  7. Provide inspection checklist that explains unique requirements beyond applicable codes

  8. Specify a narrow time window for system inspection

  9. For efficiency, require only one inspection for standard rooftop systems on existing homes or businesses

  10. Adopt ordinances that encourage distributed solar generation and protect solar rights and access including reasonable roof setback requirements

  11. Educate residents on solar energy by providing information on financing options and projected economic benefit

  12. Show your commitment to being a solar-friendly community by tracking community solar development and provide tools showing solar access in your community

Some of the best practices may not seem like a big deal (they wouldn't list fixing your website if there wasn't a need), but what they really affect is time. "For installers, time is money," as Cantwell said, but in this case, time is also the temperature of the planet.

Image credit: Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association

Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller is a writer, ecologist, and adventurer living in Colorado. She is interested in everything, but particularly in creative sustainability practices, the Internet, arts and culture, the human-machine interaction, and democracy. She's lived in Shanghai, New York, L.A., Philadelphia, and D.C., and taught English, run political campaigns, waited tables, and written puppet shows. She definitely wants to hear what you're up to. You can reach her at @hannahmiller215, email at golden.notebook at gmail.com or at her site: www.hannahmiller.net.

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