As solar power arrays pop up around the country like mushrooms after rain, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is helping 25 cities fertilize their growth. DOE’s Solar America Cities (SAC) program, started in 2007, promotes the mainstream adoption of solar power into city energy planning, zoning and city facilities. The participating cities have become test beds for a variety of solar projects.
Selected through a competitive awards process, the 25 solar cities received $200,000 each, along with technical assistance from universities, national laboratories and Denver-based engineering firm CH2M HILL. The technical assistance provides access to national solar experts who help draft power purchase agreements to help finance projects, select photovoltaic panels and train building code officials, says Tom Kimbis, director of the SAC program. Many cities have used the cash to hire full-time sustainability coordinators.
SAC’s technical assistance helped create Berkeley, Calif.’s Solar Mapping Portal, which went online in April. Using the portal, residents can estimate the solar potential of their rooftops, calculate the square footage needed for solar panels, gather information about available tax rebates and more.
SAC funding supports Portland, Ore.’s Solar Now! program, a partnership between the city, the Oregon Department of Energy and two non-profits. “Part of our mission is to dispel the myth that solar won’t work in the northwest,” says Portland’s Solar Program Coordinator Lee Rahr. To that end, the Solar Now! program with DOE assistance has held free workshops for businesses and residents about solar technologies and innovative financing. And, DOE support has helped the city streamline its electronic permitting process, reducing the wait time for contractors to 24 hours.
Participation in the program is limited to the 25 cities for now, but Kimbis says the solar strategies developed by the program can be shared with other communities soon. “We hope to roll out lessons learned [to all cities] in the next couple of months,” he says.
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.
|The 25 Solar America Cities|
|Ann Arbor, Mich.||Minneapolis||San Antonio|
|Austin, Texas||New Orleans||San Diego|
|Berkeley, Calif.||New York||San Francisco|
|Boston||Orlando, Fla.||San Jose, Calif.|
|Denver||Philadelphia||Santa Rosa, Calif.|
|Knoxville, Tenn.||Portland, Ore.||Tucson, Ariz.|
|Madison, Wis.||Sacramento, Calif.|
|Milwaukee||Salt Lake City|