PennFuture already taking on the Rooftop Solar Challenge

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PennFuture already taking on the Rooftop Solar ChallengeCitizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) and its partners are already getting started on their effort to reduce the cost of solar through standardized permitting processes. The organization was one of 22 awarded a grant from the Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge, winning $315,697 in the first phase of the award. PennFuture hopes to standardize the permitting process across 23 southwestern Pennsylvania municipalities.

PennFuture and its Three Rivers Solar Source project is working with the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC), CONNECT (Congress of Neighboring Communities), Solar Unified Network of Western Pennsylvania (SUNWPA), and the Green Building Alliance to create model laws that will help standardize the permitting process across multiple jurisdictions, making it easier for installers to operate in the region.

“In Pennsylvania we have a very fragmented government structure, and permitting and zoning really comes from local governments. In our nine-county region in Southwestern Pennsylvania we have 500 municipalities [there are 2,500 in the state]. It makes it really difficult for solar installers when you go from one town to the next,” said PennFuture Project Manager of the Pittsburgh Solar Program Sharon Pillar.

At the same time, municipalities are trying to figure out how to handle solar permitting for homes. Some don’t yet have plans, she said.

“The idea behind our proposal [is to develop] consistent fees across this region, including the City of Pittsburgh,” said Pillar.

Moving forward, the group will work with the participating municipalities to create a permitting process based on the Solar ABCs (Solar America Board for Codes and Standards) system that satisfies them and makes it easier for installers and consumers, but ultimately it will be up to the local governments whether they choose to adopt them.

“It will be them drafting the policy. The agreement is they would adopt the model that we come up with in the end,” Pillar said. “Those that adopt it will get a Sunshine Community Certification. So they’ll have something to show for what they’ve done.”

If this first phase of the program is successful, the group could qualify for funding for a second phase. In that phase, the group would work to make the process adoptable throughout Pennsylvania.

“The other piece is to try and create a financing tool to help individual and non-profits,” Pillar said. “It’s a really good time now for us in Pennsylvania. We had a pretty lucrative grant program in Pennsylvania, and our SREC market also bottomed out. Finding these financing tools will be really helpful to the industry here.”

Image courtesy of Northeast Sustainable Energy Association.