GOSHEN — Goshen City Council members Tuesday learned the city has been awarded a Gold Designation from SolSmart, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, for taking early steps to encourage solar energy growth.
Leah Thill, a technical adviser for SolSmart, was at Tuesday’s meeting to present the award and provide a little background about the organization and its work.
As a SolSmart Gold designee — and one of the first communities in Indiana to be labeled as such — Thill noted that Goshen is receiving national recognition for adopting programs and practices that make it faster, easier and cheaper to go solar.
According to Thill, a SolSmart designation is a signal that the community is “open for solar business,” helping to attract solar industry investment and generate economic development and local jobs.
“This initiative will help put us at the top tier of communities in Indiana that are striving to become more environmentally friendly,” Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman said. “And our efforts shouldn’t stop here. I would like to invite everyone in the community to help us find efficiencies that will continue to benefit our quality of life.”
In order to achieve a designation, Thill noted that cities and counties must take steps to reduce solar “soft costs,” or non-hardware costs that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system. Examples of soft costs include planning and zoning, permitting, financing, customer acquisition and installation labor.
According to Thill, soft costs now represent roughly two-thirds of the total price of an installed residential system. Reducing those costs leads to savings that are passed on to consumers, she explained.
In Goshen, some of those steps included creating a landing page with all necessary resources for residents interested in installing solar panels in their properties, training all building inspectors to know what to look for in solar panel installations to ensure they are safely installed and training all firefighters to learn how to properly disarm solar panel systems in the event of a fire to keep everyone safe
According to Stutsman, the city worked with Thill, the Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG), as well as council members, city staff and residents to receive the SolSmart designation.
Stutsman went on to commend everyone who took part in every step of the journey leading to the city’s receipt of the SolSmart Gold Designation.
“I would like to thank MACOG, SolSmart Technical Adviser Leah Thill, the City Council, staff and residents who participated in these discussions to help us get to this point,” Stutsman said.
In addition to announcing the SolSmart award, Thill was also joined by Glenn Gilbert, director of facilities for Goshen College, in discussing a new city clean-energy initiative he’s involved with coined the Solarize Initiative.
According to Gilbert, the cost of generating solar energy has declined by about 30 percent the past five years. To make solar even more affordable, Gilbert explained how the city is organizing a community group-purchasing initiative this summer that would harness the buying power of multiple residents and businesses to receive a discount on the installations. As part of this effort, the city will provide educational workshops to explain the benefits of the technology and how to go solar, Gilbert explained.
For more information about local ways to go solar, Gilbert encouraged everyone to access the Solar Resources information on the city’s website by visiting goshenindiana.org/going-solar-in-goshen.
SolSmart is a national designation and technical assistance program that recognizes leading solar communities and empowers additional communities to expand their local solar markets. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, 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. Learn more at SolSmart.org.
The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade. Through SunShot, the Energy Department supports efforts by private companies, universities and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. For more information about the SunShot Initiative, visit energy.gov/sunshot.
John Kline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN