Whitefish earns award for solar-energy efforts

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Whitefish City Hall at the corner of East Second Street and Baker Avenue. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

The city of Whitefish on Monday was awarded a SolSmart Bronze designation from the national SolSmart program for making it faster, easier and more affordable for homes and businesses to go solar.

The designation recognizes Whitefish for taking steps to encourage solar-energy growth and remove obstacles to solar development. For companies looking to expand, a SolSmart Bronze designation is a signal that Whitefish is “open for solar business,” according to Whitefish Senior Project Engineer Karin Hilding.

SolSmart is led by the Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. More than 200 cities, counties, and small towns have achieved SolSmart designation since the program launched in 2016.

“Facilitating the use of solar by local builders in Whitefish is 21st century thinking,” Hilding said in a press release.

In April, the city adopted a Climate Action Plan that included goals for using more renewable energy like solar.

“Some people think Whitefish is not a good place for solar because of the cloudy winters,” Hilding said. “In fact, a recent study showed that Whitefish gets plenty of sun, especially during the summer. It’s comparable to other larger solar markets in the state, and even around the country.”

As a SolSmart designee, Whitefish is helping solar companies greatly reduce the cost of installations and pass those savings on to consumers. This allows even more local homes and businesses to obtain affordable, clean, and reliable electricity through solar, she said, adding that the actions the city has taken will help encourage solar companies to do business in the area, driving economic development and creating local jobs.

To receive the designation, cities and counties make changes to their local processes to reduce the time and money it takes to install a solar-energy system. This includes evaluating local permitting processes, as well as planning and zoning procedures. SolSmart designees also develop innovations in areas such as market development and finance. This effort is supported by local “advisers” working through the Solar Foundation.

The award was presented by the Montana Renewable Energy Association, a Montana-based nonprofit acting as Montana’s statewide SolSmart Adviser, helping communities across the state achieve designation.

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