A dedicated group of local government planning and economic development professionals attended the ‘Solar 101: Getting Started with Solar in Your Community’ workshop on May 17, 2011 in Raleigh, NC.

From as close as neighboring community, Cary, N.C., to as far away as Pullman, WA, attendees listened and participated in the third Solar America Communities (SACO) solar workshop for local governments and their stakeholders, this one held in conjunction with the American Solar Energy Society’s 2011 conference in Raleigh, N.C.

Presenters Justin Barnes and Amy Heinemann (North Carolina Solar Center), and Lisa Milligan (ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability), provided an overview of important, basic solar concepts to help local governments learn what economic and policy tools and resources exist to help expand the use of solar energy technologies in the Southeast Region of the U.S.  Colleen Kettles (Florida Solar Energy Center), discussed how local government regulations and policies could impact the use of solar energy in the community, with particular emphasis on solar access laws.

The goal of the SACO workshops is to introduce state and local governments to the best practices for increasing the use of solar energy in their communities. Previous SACO solar workshops have been held in Philadelphia and Boston.

Attendees gave the workshop a thumbs-up.

“I was very impressed,” said Jerry Dietzen, City of Fayetteville N.C.  “It was very informative and extremely well done.  Kudos!!”

In 2009, the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and ICLEI were competitively selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct technical outreach to local governments across the United States, enabling them to replicate successful solar practices and quickly expand local adoption of solar energy.  IREC, DSIRE, SEPA, The Solar Foundation, and The Meister Group are members of the ICLEI team, while the American Planning Association, the National Association of Regional Councils and several independent consultants round out the ICMA team. The workshops are funded by the DOE through these organizations.

During the morning, attendees heard presentations on a wide range of solar topics, including incentives, policies, overcoming barriers, and debunking myths.  There were several opportunities during the day for attendees to work together to identify areas where barriers exist, and defined needs for tools to help them be more effective advocates for solar in their communities.  Attendees left the workshop with two valuable resources: a workbook containing the entire presentation, a comprehensive list of resources, and sample RFP’s, Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and model ordinances; the other, a copy of Solar Powering Your Community: A Guide for Local Governments (revised, January 2011), written and published by the DOE.

After lunch, a local industry panel including Julian Prosser (City of Raleigh), Timothee Neron-Bancel (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners), Tyler Johnson (FLS Energy), Neal Mitchell (AEG), and Blair Kendall (Southern Energy Management), shared experiences and described expertise that might be useful to local governments that want to add solar technologies to their energy inventory.

“Doing these kinds of projects was like going back to school,” said City of Raleigh’s Julian Prosser, long-time solar champion, as he described the City’s long standing commitment to and relationship with renewable energy, which goes back to 1985.

While Prosser said that the City’s upper management team was often on-board for implementing these kinds of technologies, internal staff, from legal to building inspectors and facility management were the ones who required greater education and outreach to convince them of the value of solar.

“Not only does your ‘top-down management’ need to be on board, but maybe even more importantly, within the organization,” said Prosser.  “It’s critical for them to understand the impact on economic development, and branding your community as a place for new technologies, advanced thinking—that’s really big.”

Blair Kendall, with Southern Energy Management, a NC firm that installs small and large PV and solar thermal technologies for local governments, sounded a similar theme.

“Actually, the solar industry is moving faster than local government’s contracting officers,” he said.

Kendall offered up a useful, practical list of ‘do’s and don’t’s’ for solar RFP’s for municipalities.

“Don’t get carried away by ‘solar bling’,” he said.  “Focus on commercialized technologies with a proven track record in the field.  And focus on system performance rather than number of collectors or model numbers.  You’ve got to have some credible way to evaluate systems.”

Bob Leker, Renewables Program Manager with the North Carolina Energy Office, offered a few suggestions for his fellow local government colleagues on power purchase agreements (PPA’s).

“Develop an outline for PPAs.  To implement them [PPAs] successfully requires a team of local government folks to understand how to monetize incentives.  This is the value, but it requires a complex partner arrangement,” he advised.

“It was a treat to learn about solar with key government resources,” said Emily Barrett, Town of Cary, NC.  “It was also really helpful to hear other’s struggles and aspirations.  The connections made were incredible.”

Slides & notes from this workshop will be posted online at: www.solaramericacommunities.energy.gov/resources