Mercer Island is “open for solar business,” indicated by receiving SolSmart Gold designation at the Jan. 23 City Council meeting.
The city met stringent and objective criteria targeting removal of obstacles to solar development. Gold status indicates a lack of procedural obstacles such as long permitting waiting times or burdensome zoning regulations, according to the city’s weekly newsletter.
Jennifer Grove, executive director of Spark Northwest, presented the award plaque to Mayor Debbie Bertlin, accompanied by the city’s Sustainability Manager Ross Freeman. In achieving gold status, Mercer Island joins only two other cities in all of Washington and Oregon with top ranking. Since the program launched in 2016, approximately 150 municipalities nationwide have achieved SolSmart designation.
The city currently has 116 known solar installations, with a capacity approaching 1,000 kilowatts of total generation, giving it a higher per capita capacity than any other Eastside city. In the summer of 2014, Spark Northwest helped the city run a “Solarize Campaign” to encourage and simplify residential installations, successfully adding 47 new arrays to the Island in just nine months. About 18 months ago, the Mercer Island School District added two 100-kilowatt arrays on the rooftop of two new school buildings.
The SolSmart program is implemented by the International City/County Management Association and The Solar Foundation, and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The program seeks to improve the prospects for solar energy growth by streamlining local permitting requirements and promoting economic development from new solar jobs.
Mercer Island has a greenhouse gas target of 80 percent reduction by 2050, and renewable energy is an important part of the suite of community actions that can help reach that goal. Most standard residential solar installations do not need a building permit, just a simple electrical permit, which takes a few minutes to receive in person at City Hall.
Learn more about solar on Mercer Island at www.mercergov.org/Page.asp?NavID=2972.