Frequently Asked Questions
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EPA supports peer-to-peer networking opportunities and highlights best practices and innovations from leading cities and towns across the United States. To help foster broader information sharing, this site provides a forum to share answers to commonly asked questions as well as a means to ask specific questions of experts.
- What is the purpose of the Solar Project Development Portal?
EPA is working with the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to support local governments in meeting their environmental and energy goals through greater utilization of solar energy from on- and off-site solar projects that serve municipal operations. The Local Government Solar Project Portal is intended to provide tools and resources to aid local governments through each step of the project development pathway.
Local governments that are considering developing solar projects over the next two years, can participate in this effort by providing regular updates on their project development efforts. Participants can take advantage of the resources that EPA, NREL, and DOE offer, including webinars with experienced local governments and industry experts, targeted individual trainings, and other engagement opportunities to share your experiences with other local governments. Participation also demonstrates leadership among peers and provides EPA recognition for developing solar projects. If you are interested in participating, simply send an email to EPASolarPortal@erg.com (contractor in support of EPA).
- How do I update or submit solar project development progress to EPA?
If you are sharing your municipality’s renewable energy goal or commitment to start, you can simply email either a link or documentation of your goal/commitment to EPASolarPortal@erg.com (contractor in support of EPA). Please include in your initial email to EPA the following additional information:
- Local government primary contact information (e.g., name, phone, email, mailing address)
- A link to or a document detailing your publicly available solar or renewable energy commitment or goal (e.g., web URL link)
If you are already listed on the Portal and are sharing your municipality’s solar project development progress you can use the Guidance for Submitting Solar Project Progress Spreadsheet (XLSX)(1 pg, 19 K) . This spreadsheet provides quick and easy guidance for submitting examples of your solar project development progress to EPA.
- How do I set a renewable energy goal?
A renewable electricity goal is generally expressed in terms of a solar system size (generating capacity in kilowatts or megawatts) or as a performance-based goal (percentage of renewable electricity generation and/or use in kilowatt-hours by a certain year). Municipalities can also express their goals as a percentage reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions if they are purchasing renewable electricity to reduce their emissions footprint.
EPA’s Guidance for Setting a Renewable Energy Goal provides a framework for why and how to set a renewable energy goal (Step 1 of the Solar Project Development Pathway) and discusses key considerations for doing so. Topics covered include the benefits of different types of goals, which technologies to include, and how state policies might affect goal-setting decisions. The information provided will help local governments determine their primary motivations for using renewable energy, which will inform the list of viable project options down the road. The document also walks municipalities through the logistics of successful internal and external stakeholder engagement. At the end of the document, there is a four-page worksheet to help municipalities take actionable steps toward setting a renewable energy goal.
- How do I assess my potential solar project sites?
Understanding solar site opportunities starts with collecting site information and utility data. This information is important when seeking project proposals from developers and is the basis for conducting site assessments to identify the most suitable sites. EPA’s Solar Project Assessment Training Video explains the basic steps for assessing potential solar project sites; describes how to pre-screen the potential sites on your initial list; and explains how to conduct a more in-depth site evaluation of promising locations.
On Wednesday November 28, 2018, EPA hosted a Solar Project Portal Webinar: Site Assessments for Local Governments. The webinar provided an overview of the key steps to performing a site assessment and featured guest speakers from the City of Chicago, the City of Eau Claire, and the City of Urbana who provided real-world examples of the steps they took as well as lessons learned from their site assessment experiences.
- How do I identify the green power supply options that are available to my city?
A variety of green power supply options are available in today's market. Each supply option has its own set of unique characteristics, and local governments should weigh these different factors when determining the option that best meets their energy and environmental objectives given their unique financial, operational, and policy situations.
The EPA Green Power Supply Options Screening Tool (XLSM)(1 pg, 124 K) is designed to assist organizations in identifying possible green power supply options that are available to them based on their organizational details as well as federal, state, and utility policies. Based on responses to a few key questions, the tool will describe which supply option might be most feasible, according to the relevant federal, state, and utility policies.
- What are the benefits of a Solar Power Purchase Agreements (SPPA) for local governments?
A Solar Power Purchase Agreement (SPPA) is a financial arrangement in which a third-party developer owns, operates, and maintains the photovoltaic (PV) system, and a host customer agrees to site the system on its property and purchases the system's electric output from the solar services provider for a predetermined period. This financial arrangement allows the host customer to receive stable and often low-cost electricity, while the solar services provider or another party acquires valuable financial benefits, such as tax credits and income generated from the sale of electricity.
Benefits for local governments if they enter into a SPPA, include:
- No upfront capital cost.
- Predictable energy pricing.
- No system performance or operating risk.
- Projects can be cash flow positive from day one.
- Visibly demonstrable environmental commitment.
- Potential to make claims about being solar powered (with REC ownership).
- Potential reduction in carbon footprint (with REC ownership).
- Potential increase in property value.
- Support for local economy and job creation.
Local governments should also consider the potential challenges before entering a SPPA.
- What are Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and why are they important to my solar project?
A renewable energy certificate (REC), is a market-based instrument that represents the property rights to the environmental, social, and other non-power attributes of renewable electricity generation. Because the physical electricity we receive through the utility grid says nothing of its origin or how it was generated, RECs play an important role in accounting, tracking, and assigning ownership to renewable electricity generation and use. On a shared grid, whether from on-site or off-site resources, RECs are the instrument that electricity consumers must use to substantiate renewable electricity use claims. This short video describes the importance and role of RECs in making green power possible for electricity consumers Exit.
Claims based on a REC can only be made by one party. Once made, no other entity can legitimately make renewable energy use claims on the electricity associated with that REC. In this guidance document, EPA describes best practices for appropriately explaining and characterizing solar power activities and the critical importance of RECs for solar power use claims. EPA also provides examples of the types of claims you can make pertaining to "use" of solar power and carbon footprint reduction.
- How do I best communicate about my municipality’s renewable energy projects?
The Local Government Solar Project Press Release Template(7 pp, 127 K) provides examples for municipalities to use when announcing new renewable energy projects. The templates ensure that local governments are communicating clearly, accurately, and in accordance with best practices, and helps cities navigate the effect of REC ownership on solar claims. Select the template that fits your situation based on your REC ownership status by following the flowchart on the first page, and then personalize the details that are highlighted in blue.