Solar Resources Toolkit for Local NC Governments


This toolkit was developed by the North Carolina Solar Center to provide on-line information about solar energy technologies to local governments in North Carolina. Funding for the project came from a grant for the North Carolina Million Solar Roofs Partnership that was provided by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  Funding and support for the NC Million Solar Roofs Partnership is also provided by the State Energy Office.

While many solar resources have been referenced in this toolkit, there are many other excellent resources that were not mentioned. Although every effort has been made to present accurate information on this site, inaccuracites may exist.

  • create a comprehensive toolbox of resources for implementing solar energy at the local government level tailored to North Carolina;
  • make key officials of towns, cities and counties in the state aware of the practical opportunities for solar energy implementation at the local level and the availability of resources such as the toolkit and the NC Solar Center;
  • engage community officials in a serious dialogue about implementing solar energy in their communities and facilitate steps toward that end; and
  • provide support to selected local government initiatives that encourage solar energy adoption in their community &/or incorporate solar into public facilities

These resources were developed as part of this project to provide education and outreach to local governments in North Carolina. They are provided here for your use.

A brochure “Helping Local Governments Make Infomed Choices About Solar Energy” was sent out to 1,205 North Carolina local government officials. The brochure explains the benefits of solar energy and provides mini case studies of local solar success stories.

An informational presentation was developed and given during visits to local government leaders. The presentation introduces local governments to the many benefits of solar and provides an overview of the different solar energy technologies.

A table top display was created for use at conferences and outreach events. The display explains the benefits of solar energy and provides mini case studies of local solar success stories.

A paper describing this project entitled “Educating Municipal and County Governments About Solar Energy” will be presented during the American Solar Energy Society’s 2006 Conference in Denver, Colorado on Tuesday, July 11 during the Professional Development & Training session from 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm.

Please contact the NC Solar Center at if you are a local government in North Carolina that is considering solar energy technologies.

Why Solar Makes Sense

There are many reasons why solar makes sense for North Carolina. These reasons include:

  • Energy Independence. The energy in sunlight that falls on NC on an average day is sufficient to provide all of our state’s energy needs for a year. Diversifying our energy supply to capture our own resources protects us from supply disruptions and price fluctuations, and enables us to be more self-sufficient.
  • Local Job Creation. Since the fuel (sunlight) for solar energy systems is free, the primary costs are for labor-intensive manufacturing, installation, and maintenance.  The solar industry generates about 3,000 jobs for every $100 million of module sales.  Instead of sending billions of dollars out of the state for fossil fuels, why not use some of that money to create jobs in North Carolina.
  • Investment in a Growing Market. Solar power has become a multi-billion dollar industry.  Venture capital firms and institutional investors are taking note as both established solar companies and nanotechnology startups compete in a fierce effort to bring down the costs of solar energy.  Manufacturers are rapidly increasing production capacity as solar products are snatched up by the Japanese and Germans.
  • Clean Energy. Solar energy systems do not pollute.  They silently convert sunlight to electricity and/or heat day after day without emitting any carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, or any of the other toxic wastes created by coal-fired and nuclear power plants.  Over 60% of North Carolina’s electricity comes from coal, causing air pollution, health problems, environmental degradation, and greenhouse gases.  Virtually all the rest comes from nuclear energy, with its unresolved problem of radioactive waste storage.  Solar energy can play an important role in addressing problems such as ground level air pollution, global warming, mercury poisoning, and acid rain that affect our state.
  • Energy Security. The practice of locating small energy generators near end users instead of having a few huge centralized plants is known as “distributed generation.”  New technologies have made it practical, and clean renewable energy sources such as solar have made it safe.  Distributed systems are less likely to have widespread failures, are relatively quick and easy to repair, and are more secure.

Basics of Solar Energy

Solar can be used to create electricity, heat water and air, and provide lighting. Learn more about solar energy technologies from these sites.

Applications for Local Governments

There are many ways that local governments can support solar energy, including installing solar on government buildings, purchasing green power, and making it easier for their citizens to install solar energy. Keep reading for examples of local government solar success stories.

Local governments can tour these solar energy installations online.

  • Dedicated and opened to the public in 1981, the Solar House at North Carolina State University is one of the most visible and visited solar buildings in the United States. Over the last two decades, more than 250,000 people from around the world have toured the facility.
  • The purpose of the NC Green Building Technology Database is to help you find projects in the State of North Carolina that have implemented specific green building techniques, strategies, or technologies.  “Green building” is sometimes referred to as “high performance building” or “sustainable building.” It means that energy, water, and materials are used efficiently during the construction and lifetime of the structure; the health and productivity of occupants is supported; and the impact of the structure on the local and global environment is minimized.
  • The North Carolina Renewable Energy Registry provides a listing of solar, wind, and small hydro installations in the state.  Please help us by entering your installations into the Registry.  We are counting solar installations, so enter your system and be counted.

Solar Success Stories in North Carolina. These are examples of solar energy systems in use by local governments in North Carolina.

  • The City of Raleigh installed solar pay stations at three of their downtown parking lots in August 2004. The City paid the one-time cost of the photovoltaic panels and mounting poles and saved the cost of permitting and inspections, as well as electrical and meter installation capital costs. The panels took less than a day to install, which saved over three weeks for scheduling and completing conventional hard wiring installations in the lots. Raleigh’s solar pay stations have no monthly electrical costs for collections and are now considering solar pay stations for their parking decks.
  • The Town of Chapel Hill installed a solar hot water system on Fire Station Number One in 2005. The system heats water used for bathing, clothes washing, cooking, and cleaning. Fire stations, jails, hospitals, schools, and other community buildings with hot water demand are excellent candidates for solar hot water systems
  • Watauga County Parks & Recreation has been using solar water heating at their Watauga County Swim Complex since the 1980s.  Water heated by the solar collectors provides year-round hot water for showers and other domestic hot water needs, as well as for heating water for the indoor therapy pool.   The end result has been a significant cost savings for propane that the county would have spent on water heating if it weren’t for the solar panels.
  • The Town of Chapel Hill’s Hargraves Community Center produces a portion of the energy needed to power the main building with a roof-top photovoltaic (solar electric) system. Large photovoltaic systems on schools and community centers, along with producing electricity year round, can produce electricity during power outages, making them excellent community shelters during natural disasters.

Solar Success Stories from Across the Country.  Local governments across the country are implementing solar energy solutions to meet their communities’ needs.  Here are some examples.

  • The Vote Solar Initiative’s mission is to promote a national transition to clean energy by empowering city governments to implement large-scale, cost-effective solar projects. In November 2001, San Francisco voters approved a $100 million revenue bond for renewable energy and energy efficiency that pays for itself from the savings and costs taxpayers nothing. The Vote Solar Initiative aims to replicate this model in cities across the country, and by doing so, dramatically accelerate the nation’s transition to renewable energy.
  • The report Solar Cities: Local Government & Utility Leaders in Solar Deployment summarizes solar projects and policies of some of the leading “Solar Cities.”
  • IREC’s Solar Means Safety educational campaign includes a series of six fact sheets describing solar power’s versatility and flexibility for a variety of uses.  “The goal of the campaign is to reach out to groups … like firefighters and police and help them realize that solar energy has great applicability to the work they do,” said Jane Pulaski, IREC’s Program Manager for the campaign.“  As we know, solar powered energy provides that clean, reliable power source, while adding huge value to local governments’ disaster relief plans.  It’s up to us to broaden our base of support and help others realize that PV should be a part of a city or county’s energy and safety plans before the need arises,” she said.
  • IREC’s Solar Means Safety Campaign – Energy Surety Factsheet.
  • The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club’s report Sustainable Cities: Best Practices in Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency, features case studies of Austin, Chicago, Fort Collins, and Portland

Project Considerations & Planning – Green Building

Focusing on how a building works as a whole, integrated, high performance system, Green Building includes many solar design considerations. Additionally, an energy efficient, healthy building environment will assist the installed renewable energy resources in providing a higher percentage of the buildings energy needs than would occur on a typical building with the same size system.

Local governments can use green building practices for their own buildings, as well as promoting green building in the community.

  • U.S. Green Building Council State and Local Government Tool Kit
  • Energy efficiency topics for the EERE DOE program.

Some local governments have established construction and design standards and requirements for new buildings.

  • Chapel Hill, NC – Energy Conservation Requirements for Town Buildings
  • To read about other design and construction requirements of local governments, visit DSIRE, choose “Search By” from the toolbar, select “Incentive Type,” and then choose “Construction & Design Policies” from the pull down list.  You will receive a list of programs from around the country to browse.

These are resources local governments can promote to homeowners.

  • Energy Star is a federal EPA/DOE program for increasing the energy efficiency of homes.
  • The NC HealthyBuilt Homes Program provides a certificate for homes meeting “green home guidelines” built by residential builders who practice sustainable, high performance building strategies making the home a comfortable, healthy and affordable place that reduces energy and water usage, promotes renewable energy use and helps protect the land where the home is built.
  • Connect to the Checklist for the NC HBH program.
  • Connect to the Community Leader section of the website for specific resources, links and ideas.
  • The Green Building Sourcebook from the Austin Energy Green Building Program in Texas.

These are resources that local governments can promote to the commercial and institutional sectors.

  • Whole Building Design Guidelines for Commercial Buildings
  • The North Carolina Daylighting Consortium, coordinated by the NC Solar Center, is a sponsor of the Daylight Dividends work.
  • Welcome to the Daylighting in Schools Online Training Program: a free, web-based resource created to help building professionals – and others interested in the topic – understand and be able to deliver high quality daylighting in schools.  This unique resource – the most comprehensive training program of its kind in the U.S. – was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy under its Rebuild America program, in cooperation with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities’ Clean Energy Program
  • Guide for Daylighting Schools was developed in 2004 by Innovative Design for the Daylight Dividends Program. The guideline is based upon practical experiences in designing and constructing over 40 daylit schools throughout the country. The guide addresses the key design considerations typically confronted when designing K-12 schools from Orlando, Florida to Portland, Oregon.

Project Considerations & Planning – Restrictive Covenants

Restrictive covenants, zoning ordinances, comprehensive plans, and building codes, could disallow solar energy systems. Some state and local governments have passed solar access laws which gaurantee an owner’s right to sun and to install solar energy technologies.

Project Considerations & Planning – Permitting & Code Considerations

Project Considerations & Planning – Purchasing & Producing Renewable Energy

Purchasing electricity generated from solar and renewable energy is an excellent way to support clean energy.  In North Carolina, local governments can purchase clean energy through the NC GreenPower Program.  Local governments can also become a NC GreenPower producer and receive a NC GreenPower Production Incentive for the electricity that they produce.

  • NC GreenPower is the first statewide green energy program in the nation supported by all the state’s utilities and administered by Advanced Energy, an independent nonprofit corporation located in Raleigh, N.C. The goal of NC GreenPower is to supplement the state’s existing power supply with more green energy – electricity generated from renewable resources like the sun, wind and organic matter. The program accepts financial contributions from North Carolina citizens and businesses to help offset the cost to produce green energy.
  • Becoming a NC GreenPower Producer

To learn more about green power, including utility green pricing and renewable energy certificates (RECs), visit the Green Power Network.  The Green Power Network is operated and maintained by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy.

A local government can also sell the renewable energy credits (RECs) that they produce, although this cannot be done when participating in the NC GreenPower Program or utilizing Net Metering with one of the state’s three investor-ownved utilities.  North Carolina’s Net Metering rule allows a local government that produces electricity from solar energy to get credit for electricity that they produce.

Project Considerations & Planning – Interconnection

Local governments that are installing a solar electric (photovoltaic system) that will produce electricity will need to understand how to connect the system (unless it is a stand-alone system) to the utility grid.

  • North Carolina’s simplified interconnection standard provides a process for a local government that produces electricity from a solar energy system to follow to interconnect their system to the utility grid.
  • North Carolina’s net metering rule allows a local government that produces electricity from a solar energy system to get credit for the electricity that they produce.
  • Note: This Guide was written prior to the passage in 2005 of a state interconnection standard and a net metering rule, so be aware that the Guide language does not reflect the existence of either one. The Guide to Interconnecting Small PV Systems for Participation in NC GreenPower outlines the steps to interconnecting small photovoltaic (PV) systems to the utility grid with the intention of selling electricity to the NC GreenPower Program. It is not a technical guide to the actual installation of a system, but it covers basic issues such as siting, system configuration, cost, financing, and working with your local utility. Included at the end is a summary checklist that presents the logical step-by-step process to installing a PV system that will suit your needs and meet the requirements of your utility and NC GreenPower.
  • The Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s (IREC) National Interconnection Project provides services and resources to facilitate the development of interconnection standards for renewable-energy systems and other forms of distributed generation (DG) in the United States. With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, this project offers targeted technical assistance for states and DG stakeholders, and relevant interconnection news and publications for a more general audience. The project web site serves as an information clearinghouse on interconnection issues
  • IREC’s Connecting to the Grid: A Guide to Distributed Generation Interconnection Issues, 4th Edition

Project Considerations & Planning – Certifying Solar Energy Systems & Professionals

Project Financing

Financing Options. There are numerous financing options to consider. While solar energy equipment can be costly to purchase, the fuel the equipment uses – sunlight – is free and won’t increase in cost or be affected by fuel shortages. You will want to consider the following as you investigate financing options available to you.

  • Third Party Financing for energy projects involves Energy Service Companies, or ESCOs. ESCOs develop, install, and finance projects designed to improve the energy efficiency and maintenance costs for facilities over a seven to 10 year time period. These services are bundled into the project’s cost and are repaid through the dollar savings generated.  The National Association of Energy Service Companies is a national trade association which has been promoting the benefits of the widespread use of energy efficiency for over 20 years.
  • Bonds are one mechanism for financing municipal solar projects. Cities such as San Francisco have used revenue bonds to bundle solar and energy efficiency projects together.  Under the new Clean Renewable Energy Bond (CREB) program, established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, up to $800 million in tax-credit bonds may be issued by qualified bond lenders, cooperative electric companies, and government bodies (including public power systems).
  • Visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) for a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility, and selected federal incentives that promote renewable energy.

Local Governments can help businesses be aware of financial incentives available to them. State and federal tax credits, which can’t be taken by local governments, can be used by businesses in the community. A 35% state tax credit has a cap of 2.5 million. A 30% federal tax credit has no cap. The federal Modified Accelerated Cost-Recovery System (MACRS) allows solar investments to be recovered over five years through depreciation deductions. Both local governments and businesses are eligible for the state’s Energy Improvement Loan Program, which provides a 1% loan for certain energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Evaluating Solar Investments. The financial community has usually sought to evaluate the solar investment decision with such tools as Net Present Value (NPV) or the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM). In using these sophisticated tools, the most common conclusion is that solar energy is “too expensive”. Unfortunately, the contemporary methods used to value solar energy systems are counterproductive. The question should be “is a solar energy system too expensive relative to the next best alternative?” Once the issue is reframed in the context of opportunity costs rather than market price, a new set of solutions to these objections appear.

Solar Installers

Locate a North Carolina solar installer using these online resources.

  • The Directory of Renewable Energy Professionals provides an easy-to-use tool for locating companies that provide renewable energy products and services to North Carolina citizens and organizations. It includes not only solar energy, but also wind, geothermal, energy efficiency and other technologies that reduce pollution and dependence on unsustainable energy sources. The companies represented include product manufacturers, designers, consultants and building trades.
  • is a joint partnership between the American Solar Energy Society, Solar Electric Power Association, Energy Matters LLC and U.S. Department of Energy. The site serves as a convenient, user-friendly means for homeowners and businesses to learn about incentives, the economics of solar energy and find qualified professionals who can install and service systems. For no charge, consumers can send instant email inquiries to listed Solar Professionals that match their desired criteria and geographic area.
  • The North Carolina Renewable Energy Registry is an online database of renewable energy installations in North Carolina.  Browse existing solar, wind, and small hydro installations in the state and enter your systems using an easy-to-use online entry form. Search installations by installer.

Software Tools & Resources

Local governments can use these software tools and resources as they investigate solar applications.