Kane County last week took an important step forward in solar power growth — with resulting new job creation, economic development and reduced carbon emissions — when the city of Elgin and the village of Montgomery received a coveted SolSmart designation in a ceremony at Argonne Nation Laboratories in Lemont.
Elgin and Montgomery received no-cost technical assistance from the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, which served as a SolSmart advisor and was the chief catalyst in the communities’ drive to seek designation.
Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, who also chairs the mayors caucus Environment Committee, was among the award presenters.
“SolSmart designations underscore the spirit of collaboration between municipalities and a desire for greater clean energy options,” he said.
SolSmart is a national program designed to recognize communities that have taken key steps to address barriers to solar energy and foster the growth of mature local solar markets. Communities that meet the official criteria are designated SolSmart Gold, Silver, or Bronze.
Montgomery received the SolSmart Gold designation and Elgin received the SolSmart Silver designation.
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.
With 23 new designations, Illinois is expected to have 41 municipalities and counties that earned SolSmart designation, zooming past California and Colorado. Nationwide, more than 250 communities in 37 states and the District of Columbia have received designations, representing 69 million Americans.
“We congratulate these 23 SolSmart communities in Illinois for removing barriers to solar development and lowering the costs for homes and businesses,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation. “With more designees than any other state, Illinois municipalities and counties are working to ensure their residents continue to benefit from clean solar energy.”
In Illinois and nationwide, SolSmart designated communities are opening up solar markets and encouraging a dramatic expansion of solar energy. A shining example of this is Schaumburg, where a mere three solar permits grew to nearly 60 in approximately one year.
Fueling solar power expansion in the state is the Future Energy Jobs Act, which took effect on June 1, 2017. It calls for Illinois to move to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, creates energy savings, accelerates growth of solar and wind power, and saves and creates thousands of clean energy jobs, according to the FEJA website.
“The solar industry is creating jobs in Illinois,” said Lesley McCain of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. “Sales, office, and installer jobs are just some of the positions that solar businesses need to fill. Commercial and community solar projects also create opportunity for other types of businesses; fencing, landscaping and similar kinds of contractors are also enjoying a boost,” she says.
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, developed by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and adopted by Kane County in March. 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.
Nearly all of the entities receiving SolSmart designation signed on to the GRC.
The GRC in partnership with SolSmart “has been instrumental in deepening the towns’ understanding of what solar can do – the jobs and environmental benefits,” McCain 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 som help to move forward. And the Greenest Region Compact through SolSmart has really advanced that.”
SolSmart is a national designation and technical assistance program that recognizes leading solar communities and empower additional communities to expand their local solar markets. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, SolSmart strives to cut red tape, drive greater solar deployment, and make it possible for even more American homes and businesses to access solar energy to meet their electricity needs. SolSmart.org