The communities "did an exceptional job, working tirelessly in a multitude of ways to earn their designations," said Geneva, Ill. Mayor Kevin Burns, who chairs the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Environment Committee. "In addition, their staffs collaborated with counterparts at other municipalities to share resources and provide advice, assisting each other in their quests to achieve SolSmart designation."
The Caucus served as a SolSmart Advisor to 20 communities and was the chief catalyst in the communities' drive to seek designation.
SolSmart is a national program designed to recognize communities that have taken key steps to foster the growth of mature local solar markets. Communities that meet the official criteria are designated SolSmart Gold, Silver, or Bronze. SolSmart is led by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association, and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.
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To achieve Silver designation, Naperville earned at least 100 points for adopting solar best practices across eight categories of strategic SolSmart activities. These include updating ordinances to allow solar development in the community more broadly, and training inspection staff on best practices for permitting and inspecting solar systems.
For transparency and efficiency, Naperville also created a very important solar installation permitting checklist, and posted it on the community's website. This not only allows local residents to see the process, but helps those applying for a solar permit to produce the necessary forms far more easily, completely, and quickly.
With the 23 new designations, Illinois shot past California and Colorado as the state with the most communities that have earned the SolSmart distinction. Indeed, the Chicago region's solar growth has been striking. The area was the top metro for solar jobs growth in the nation last year, with 1,180 jobs added in 2018 for a total of 4,275 jobs, according to The Solar Foundation's National Solar Jobs Census 2018.
One reason for the Chicago area's boost is the Greenest Region Compact (GRC), developed by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus. This unique document guides municipal sustainability planning and unifies environmental action, regionally, through community collaboration. Its energy goals include advancing renewable energy and enacting policies to support clean energy. Naperville, like nearly all the SolSmart designated communities, signed onto the GRC.
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"Each community awarded SolSmart designation deserves their business owners' and other citizens' appreciation for providing clean, solar energy options, and advancing the Greenest Region Compact's commitment to enhanced sustainability," Mayor Burns says.
Lesley McCain of the Illinois Solar Energy Association added, "The GRC in partnership with SolSmart has been instrumental in deepening the towns' understanding of what solar can do – the jobs and environmental benefits," she said. "We saw that towns did not have robust processes for permitting or allowances for solar. A lot of them were kind of waiting for some help to move forward. And the Greenest Region Compact through SolSmart has really advanced that."
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