Denver named new program's first official "Solar Friendly Community"

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Big photos below.
After several negative headlines around solar energy locally -- including the bankruptcy of Abound Solar and news of major delays on a planned Aurora solar plant -- Colorado has some good news to share about renewable energy. Denver officials announced yesterday that the city is the first to be recognized as a "Solar Friendly Community" as part of a new program that rates governments' policies related to solar.

The recognition comes from a new project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative, a solar energy program that awarded "Rooftop Solar Challenge" grants to 22 teams across the country. The Solar Friendly Communities was the sole Colorado-based team to win and the only one that has launched an initiative that incentivizes cities through a scoring system.

The goal of the team, a collaboration of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association and several other private and public partners, is to boost local solar energy industries by officially recognizing cities and agencies that have implemented supportive policies.

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Sam Levin
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock accepting the Solar Friendly Communities award yesterday.
"They made it a really major commitment to make it faster, easier and more affordable for people in Denver to go solar. That's the bottom line," says Rebecca Cantwell, SFC's senior program director, of Denver leadership (as well as a former staffer for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News). "We really want to make a statement to the outside world that Denver is welcoming solar energy and we think that'll have both environmental and economic benefits for citizens."

While the award for Denver, announced at a press conference in the City and County building, offers only a symbolic recognition, it does require an application process and point system that Solar Friendly Communities hopes could become a national model for advancing the solar industry.

The announcement comes just weeks after the DOE's financial support of the failed Abound Solar came under scrutiny in Colorado -- a talking point in the presidential election in this key swing state. And questions about public-private partnerships and government support of solar companies are especially relevant in Colorado, since the state is home to the National Renewable Energy Lab, the DOE's only laboratory dedicated to renewables. To learn more, see our recent cover story, "Sun Burn."

So what makes Denver worthy of this recognition?

Simply put, the city has policies that remove some of the common barriers to solar energy projects, says Cantwell.

Across Colorado, the average solar permit is around $500, but in Denver, it's around $50. "That's very, very low," she says.

Additionally, Denver offers same-day permits and streamlines inspections, which in general leads to greater efficiency in solar installations.

"These changes...have an obvious price tag," says Cantwell. "And it's a major impact on the time it takes to get a solar system through the process -- and that time is money for the solar installer. They can save money and they pass that money onto customers."

Continue for more on the Solar Friendly Communities program.

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