Athens-Clarke County was recently designated a SolSmart community in recognition of it being one of the top 100 communities in the United States working to support the use of solar energy. SolSmart is an initiative of the International City/County Management Association to recognize the communities adopting programs and practices that make it faster, easier, and cheaper to implement solar. A SolSmart designation signals that the community is “open for solar business,” helping to attract solar industry investment and generate economic development and local jobs.
In 2016, the Mayor and Commission adopted a resolution calling for an increase in the amount of renewable energy used in local government operations. The Mayor and Commission have further supported renewable energy through their annually-adopted strategic goals.
“Decreasing the Unified Government’s environmental impact has long been a recognized value in this community and articulated through the Mayor and Commission,” says Manager Blaine Williams. “The Mayor and Commission recently adopted strategic commitments, among which was ‘foster an environment to decrease energy usage intensity and associated greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing efficient use and expanding the use of renewable energies.’ Among the other strategic commitments, this is what the Athens-Clarke County residents can expect of their local government.”
The Unified Government has actively installed solar energy systems at sites that include the Multimodal Transportation Center, the Oconee Street Park and Ride, and the Corrections Department's Food Preparation Facility. Currently, Athens-Clarke County's Sustainability Office and Central Services Department are coordinating new solar installations at the Transportation and Public Works Department's Streets and Drainage Facility and the Athens Regional Library.
“Both of these projects received grant funds to implement, which makes them even more beneficial for our community and our residents,” says Sustainability Officer Andrew Saunders. “Our goal is to advance renewable energy in a way that makes sense for our community.”
Local government is not the only agency supporting solar in Athens. Last year, a variety of partners including the Georgia Climate Change Coalition, Environment Georgia, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, Solar Crowd Source, and the Unified Government partnered to launch Solarize Athens. This program helped interested solar customers reduce installation costs by more than 25% through bulk purchasing using a pre-selected installer.
“What’s incredible is that last year, 80% of all new residential rooftop solar installations in Georgia occurred in Athens," says Saunders. "This really speaks to the power of the solarize programs."
In December of 2015, Georgia Power and the University of Georgia partnered to install a 1 megawatt solar demonstration and research project on state property off of Milledge Avenue. This single project more than doubled the amount of solar power present in Athens-Clarke County and supports UGA’s goal of generating 10% of their energy from off-site renewable energy sources by 2020.
To achieve SolSmart designation, cities and counties accumulate credit for taking action in a variety of areas to decrease solar installation costs, streamline permitting, and increase the use of solar. Athens-Clarke County scored high in the permitting and community engagement categories.
Last year, the Athens-Clarke County Building Permits and Inspections Department reviewed solar codes across the nation and adopted the “Solar PV Expedited Permitting Process." This reduced the permitting costs of the average installation by $500 to $600 by reducing the likelihood that special engineering reports were needed.
“Through our support of solar projects across the state, I’ve been involved with solar permitting in a variety of different jurisdictions," says Jennette Gayer, Director of Environment Georgia, an environmental advocacy organization. "Athens-Clarke County is truly modeling efficient and low-cost solar permitting for the rest of Georgia.”
In support of the solar-friendly designation, the Athens-Clarke County Sustainability Office continues to look for ways to make solar installations easier and more streamlined. Those interested in general information on solar, local rebates, and the Unified Government's use of solar can visit www.athensclarkecounty.com/green.
For more information, contact ACC Sustainability Officer Andrew Saunders at 706-613-3838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.