Missoula is one of Montana’s leaders in supporting renewable energy, and now it has a certification to prove it.
The SolSmart program has given Missoula a silver certification for its efforts to make it easier for residents to go solar. The Garden City now joins 200 communities and counties nationwide that have earned the designation since 2016.
“It’s another example of how thoughtful planning can attract and leverage resources when we don’t have a lot of them internally,” said Chase Jones, the city’s climate and action coordinator.
The city benefitted from a grant from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, which helped Missoula’s leaders create a climate action plan. The funding also put Jones in contact with Andrew Valainis, who became the executive director of the Missoula-based Montana Renewable Energy Association, which contracts as Montana’s agent for the SolSmart program.
Created in 2016 by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and funded by the DOE, SolSmart helps local governments streamline the “soft cost” of going solar, Valainis said.
If solar panels are the hard cost, the soft cost is the permitting and inspections that customers need to get connected to solar energy.
With the help of the SolSmart program, Missoula created a solar-permitting checklist to help both residents and city staff; designed a webpage with all the information needed to install solar power systems; and conducted solar education workshops in connection with the county, Climate Smart Missoula and Missoula Federal Credit Union.
“Those workshops were so successful that we did them in Helena and Whitefish, and we may try to make it a regular program,” Valainis said.
Even with all that work, Missoula was just a little shy of a gold certification. But Jones said he’s still going for the top level.
To achieve gold, the city has to show that a resident can finish all the administrative paperwork and get their permit within three days or less.
“I’m proud of the silver designation, but there is more work to do,” Jones said.