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Illinois Takes National Lead in SolSmart Designations!

Last week, Illinois took an important step forward in solar power growth – with resulting new job creation, economic development and reduced carbon emissions – a step that aligns with a national trend toward solar energy development.

Twenty-three Illinois municipalities and counties received the coveted SolSmart designation in a ceremony at Argonne National Laboratories in Lemont, Illinois.

The ceremony honored Bartlett, Deer Park, Elgin, Hillside, Hoffman Estates, LaGrange, Lake County, Lake Forest, Lake in the Hills, Libertyville, Montgomery, Naperville, Palos Park, Park Ridge, River Forest, Rockford, Round Lake Beach, Warrenville, Waukegan, and Winnetka. These 20 communities received no-cost technical assistance from the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, which served as a SolSmart Advisor and was the chief catalyst in the communities’ drive to seek designation.

“SolSmart designations underscore the spirit of collaboration between municipalities and a desire for greater clean energy options,” says Geneva, Ill. Mayor Kevin Burns, who also chairs the mayors caucus Environment Committee.

Three other communities, DuPage County, Oak Park and Woodridge, received no-cost assistance directly from SolSmart’s team of national experts, and were also honored.

With the 23 new designations, Illinois now has 41 municipalities and counties that earned SolSmart designation, zooming past California and Colorado. Nationwide, more than 250 communities in 37 states and the District of Columbia have received designations, representing 69 million Americans.

“We congratulate these 23 SolSmart communities in Illinois for removing barriers to solar development and lowering the costs for homes and businesses,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director at The Solar Foundation. “With more designees than any other state, Illinois municipalities and counties are working to ensure their residents continue to benefit from clean solar energy.”

In Illinois and nationwide, SolSmart-designated communities are opening up solar markets and encouraging a dramatic expansion of solar energy. A shining example of this is Schaumburg, Illinois, a SolSmart Silver designee, where a mere three solar permits grew to nearly 60 in approximately one year.

Fueling solar power expansion in the state is the Future Energy Jobs Act, which took effect on June 1, 2017. It calls for Illinois to move to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, creates energy savings, accelerates growth of solar and wind power, and saves and creates thousands of clean energy jobs, according to the FEJA website.

“The solar industry is creating jobs in Illinois,” says Lesley McCain of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. “Sales, office, and installer jobs are just some of the positions that solar businesses need to fill. Commercial and community solar projects also create opportunity for other types of businesses; fencing, landscaping and similar kinds of contractors are also enjoying a boost,” she says.

The Chicago region’s solar growth has been striking. The area was the top metro for solar jobs growth in the nation last year, with 1,180 jobs added in 2018 for a total of 4,275 jobs, according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2018.

One reason for the Chicago area’s boost is the Greenest Region Compact (GRC), developed by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus. This unique document guides municipal sustainability planning and unifies environmental action, regionally, through community collaboration. Its energy goals include advancing renewable energy and enacting policies to support clean energy. Nearly all of the entities receiving SolSmart designation signed onto the GRC.

The GRC in partnership with SolSmart “has been instrumental in deepening the towns’ understanding of what solar can do – the jobs and environmental benefits,” McCain says. “We saw that towns did not have robust processes for permitting or allowances for solar. A lot of them were kind of waiting for some help to move forward. And the Greenest Region Compact through SolSmart has really advanced that.”