SolSmart designation

Dickenson County Kenady District Supervisor Shelbie Willis, center, is flanked by, at left, Jack Morgan, program manager for community and economic development at the National Association of Counties, and Chelsea Barnes, new economy program manager at Appalachian Voices.

Dickenson County and seven other Southwest Virginia communities who earned designation under the national SolSmart program are now well positioned to benefit from an expansion of solar energy in the region.

Already, at least seven large-scale solar projects totaling more than 4 megawatts are expected to begin construction by the end of the year – including at Ridgeview High School on Rose Ridge, Central High School in Wise County and the Lonesome Pine Technology Park in Wise County, among others.

Kenady District Supervisor Shelbie Willis accepted the bronze award during presentation ceremonies in St. Paul July 25.

The national SolSmart designation will help facilitate additional solar projects in these communities at the residential, commercial and utility-scale levels, according to the joint announcement from The Solar Foundation, the International City/County Management Association and Appalachian Voices.

These communities were each awarded a SolSmart designation for taking local action to reduce the time and expense required to install solar energy systems. Solar energy allows residents and businesses to lower their electricity bills using a renewable power source, while at the same time driving new economic development and creating local jobs.

“The development of solar projects is key to my ‘all of the above’ approach to energy, and has the potential to generate new jobs and foster economic growth in an environmentally-friendly way,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner. “I congratulate these eight counties and towns from Southwest Virginia for striving to bring down the barriers that often put solar energy out of reach. I also want to thank SolSmart for helping these applicants achieve the high standards set out by the Department of Energy. Going forward, I hope that other localities across Virginia will look to these applicants and make it easier for communities across the Commonwealth to go solar.”

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. SolSmart uses objective criteria to recognize communities that reduce barriers to solar energy development and provides no-cost technical assistance to help communities achieve designation.

“Southwest Virginia prides itself on the production of energy, and this is just a different way of continuing the energy production,” said Lou Wallace, member of the Russell County Board of Supervisors. “Many manufacturing companies are looking for communities and counties who are forward thinking, and having this designation just solidifies our commitment to our future.”

Dickenson, Russell, Tazewell and Scott counties and the city of Norton earned Bronze designations while Wise County achieved SolSmart Silver designation. These are the first communities in the central Appalachian region of western Virginia, eastern Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky to have applied for and received the SolSmart designation. All were honored at the recognition event in St. Paul, with elected officials, local business leaders, and community members in attendance. 

 Becki Joyce, program director for  community and economic development at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, said in the announcement that the college was pleased its 2016 SWVA Economic Forum “was the catalyst for sparking interest in solar capacity among our localities. This model of regional collaboration proves Southwest Virginia is open to improving local processes in order to attract business prospects for solar companies. We are proud of the work these communities have accomplished in reaching bronze level designation.”

 Southwest Virginia communities also received in-depth technical assistance from SolSmart Advisor Gary Hearl, president and managing member of Elevation Energy & Communications LLC, a commercial renewable energy development, financing and advisory firm. SolSmart advisors work intensively with communities to help them meet solar energy development goals.

Nationwide, the announcement said, “local requirements for permitting, inspection and zoning can significantly increase the cost of a solar installation. By cutting red tape and streamlining the process for developing solar installations, communities make it faster, easier, and more affordable for residents and businesses to go solar.”

 Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation, congratulated the communities on achieving SolSmart designation, “which will open new opportunities for job creation and economic growth.” Luecke noted that the region “has an abundant solar resource as well as the human resources to build a strong solar workforce.”

Marc Ott, ICMA executive director, said SolSmart designation recognizes “actions in empowering residents and business to go solar.” These communities, Ott said, “ are prime examples of how local government can make it easier to access solar energy through streamlining regulations and implementing solar initiatives

In the future, the SolSmart program will continue to provide no-cost assistance to help these communities develop solar energy markets, with the opportunity to advance to the SolSmart Silver or Gold levels. Technical assistance from SolSmart will help facilitate additional large-scale solar energy growth in the region, including the development of solar projects on former coalfields.

In addition, the announcement said, new funding from GO Virginia Region One will support a Solar Jobs, Manufacturing and Utility-Scale Investment Playbook for Southwest Virginia, which will identify pathways for large-scale investment and job growth for solar manufacturing and utility-scale solar development. The Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia will develop the playbook along with The Solar Foundation and other partners.

Today, more than 275 counties, municipalities, and regional organizations in 38 states and the District of Columbia have been designated SolSmart Gold, Silver, or Bronze. All municipalities, counties, and regional organizations are eligible to apply for SolSmart designation. Interested communities can learn more at

 SolSmart is led by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association.

The Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia comprises nonprofit and community action agencies, colleges, state agencies, planning district commissions and other interested citizens and businesses seeking to develop a robust renewable energy industry in the seven coalfield counties of Southwest Virginia.

The workgroup was co-convened in 2016 by the UVA-Wise Office of Economic Development & Engagement, People Inc., and Appalachian Voices, with facilitation assistance from Dialogue + Design Associates. Additional background information is available at