Thanks to Denver’s efforts to make it easier for residents to go solar, the Mile High City became the first city awarded Solar Friendly Community status, by the synonymous nonprofit. By speeding and lowering the costs for permitting of solar in Denver City and County, among other efforts, the city achieved recognition with the second-highest gold status for its efforts.
The Solar Friendly Communities initiative is one the 22 Rooftop Solar Challenge teams across the U.S. and was organized to reduce the soft costs of solar. It is a partnership of is the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) and includes the cities of Denver, Fort Collins and Golden, Boulder County, the Rocky Mountain Institute and the American Solar Energy Society.
“What has made this program so successful and [have reached] the milestone we have today is the fact that collectively, through a collaborative process we were able to identify 12 best practices, clear quantifiable best practices that help make a community a solar friendly community,” said COSIEA Executive Director Neal Lurie.
Under the program communities can earn up to 1,600 points through following the best practices. It has four designations Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Denver achieved gold by reaching 1,400 points under the voluntary program. “The city of Denver to their credit has been able to reduce permit fees from the state average of about $500 for a solar system on down to $50 for a solar permit. We have seen some communities take the time of permitting to be as high as 20 days to issue a permit and here in Denver they're able to do it 15 minutes,” Lurie said. He added that the efforts show that Denver has made it easier for people in the area to put solar on their home or business.
“We want people to know that Denver is primed and absolutely honored to be considered one of the solar capitals of the nation,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, during a ceremony presenting the award on Nov. 27. “Before the Fair Permit Act of 2011 It cost almost $2,000 per person in some communities to get permits for solar energy. Today in Denver, it costs about $50. That says something and hopefully demonstrates our commitment to this.”
Denver has also been moving aggressively to build its solar presence. “I can't tell you how proud I was about a year ago when we issued about 700 permits to the Denver Housing Authority. It’s really helping to move that agency light-years ahead of other public housing authorities around the nation when comes to just doing smart government and smart energy savings,” Hancock said. He added that the city has 9.4 megawatts of solar on 18 of its buildings.
The designation also has already led to a discount from Real Goods Solar. Those in Denver County and city can get a lowered price on solar arrays, because of the efforts to make it easier for them to permit solar projects.
The program is young but already drawing attention nationally. “Since we have launched this program just a few months ago, we now have at least 12 different communities that have approached us and said they intend to seek this solar friendly designation,” Lurie said. “We've also heard from our peer groups in the rooftop solar challenge in other states, in Utah, Arizona and New York, and they've said they want to adopt this program in their community,” he said.