Garfield County earns SolSmart gold designation

Gold standard is awarded to communities that most embrace solar development

July 22, 2021

Garfield County has earned a SolSmart gold-level community designation for its efforts to promote solar energy. A national designation program funded by the Department of Energy, SolSmart recognizes cities and counties that are actively encouraging the development of solar markets.

Garfield County Community Development Department spent the past several months working to ensure the county earned the designation. Community Development Director Sheryl Bower presented the Board of County Commissioners with the designation during its regular meeting this week.

She told the board that Community Development strived to help the county achieve the SolSmart designation through efforts to make the permitting process easier; training staff for best practices in permitting, inspection, planning and zoning for solar; and by installing solar at Garfield County facilities.

“We really looked at our permitting and did a number of things that got us to the gold level,” she said. “We were a pretty solar-friendly county to begin with, but we took it to the next level. We looked at our zoning code and at restrictions and made the necessary changes. We achieved the gold designation, and now we have this beautiful plaque to acknowledge it.”

To achieve the gold designation, a city or county must meet prerequisite criteria in its permitting, inspection, planning and zoning process for solar projects. The applicant must already qualify for bronze and silver level standards, which include providing a complete solar checklist, zoning review, staff training, and then complete solar permit turnarounds in sufficient time to earn gold.

Locally, the program works with Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER) to help local governments better navigate the complex process of cutting through red tape to support solar development.

“SolSmart recognizes communities that make it faster, easier, and more affordable for homes and businesses to go solar,” according to its website.

“Thank you very much for making this possible,” said Zuleika Pevec, CLEER’s Clean Energy Program coordinator. “We’d also like to thank Garfield County staff and Sheryl Bower. … In Colorado, there are 28 SolSmart designated jurisdictions and Garfield County is one of only five that earned the gold designation, so congratulations.”

She noted that CLEER’s efforts in Garfield County are funded by a Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant, which Garfield County matched. Pevec added that the Town of Silt has also earned a gold designation, while Carbondale has achieved the silver tier.

“Overall, it shows that the communities in Garfield County are open to solar development and the benefits that brings,” she said.