Chattanooga recognized as solar-friendly city

FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, file photo, solar tech Joshua Valdez, left, and senior plant manager Tim Wisdom walk past solar panels at a Pacific Gas and Electric Solar Plant, in Dixon, Calif. Higher energy costs led to prices at the wholesale level rising in August 2017 at the fastest pace in four months, according to information released Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, by the Labor Department. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Chattanooga is being recognized by the federal government for becoming a solar-friendly city.

The U.S. Department of Energy's SolSmart program – a program that recognizes cities for taking steps toward solar energy use – gave Chattanooga a Bronze designation for making it faster, easier and more affordable for homes and businesses to go solar, according to a release from the mayor's office.

"To the private sector, a SolSmart designation is a signal that Chattanooga is open for solar business," Mayor Andy Berke wrote in the release. "As solar power becomes cheaper and more prevalent, my administration has been working hard to make Chattanooga a leader among cities that want a more progressive energy economy to expand and grow here."

To get the designation, Chattanooga had to meet a list of criteria. It included completing and presenting a review to the city's Planning Commission, training its staff on best solar permitting practice, providing online information, training fire department staff on how to respond to solar-related issues and more.

The next step for the city is gaining silver and bronze status. The city needs to document additional cross-training for staff to reach silver status. Once that is completed, the city will need to come up with a streamline process for small solar permits to reach gold status. The city will have to make a decision on permits within three days to comply with the rules. City officials believe they will reach the status by spring but want to work with the program before guaranteeing they will issue permits so quickly, Chattanooga sustainability director Erik Schmidt said.

The city wants to cooperate with the spirit of the rule. However, oftentimes permits are submitted incomplete and have to be sent back before being approved, Schmidt said. In those instances, a three-day turnaround is not always possible.

The investment into solar allows local homes and businesses obtain affordable and clean electricity through solar, according to the release.

More than 150 cities, counties and towns have been designated as solar-friendly by the program since it launched in 2016.

The city also learned it will be included in a no-cost training program by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for 50 cities and counting to help expand their solar use.

"Between joining the growing number of cities that have become SolSmart designated communities and the training we will receive from NREL, Chattanooga is making real progress toward implementing smarter, better energy policies," Chattanooga Director of Sustainability Erik Schmidt said . "These programs invite the participation of the private sector and will be a economic development engine for our local solar industry partners that want to grow in Chattanooga."