Austin wins award for improving access to solar energy

Rooftop solar panels. (KXAN Photo)
Rooftop solar panels. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin is receiving a gold designation from the U.S. Department of Energy for making it easier for businesses and residents to get solar energy.

The award recognizes Austin’s efforts to make solar more affordable, with less paperwork. The city is streamlining the steps to get solar energy, including creating an online application, which saves time. The city also offers incentives that lower the cost of getting solar energy.

Austin Energy has teamed up with the Austin City Council and other city of Austin departments to create the plans and programs that make solar energy more attainable.

Austin is one of 14 cities nationwide to receive the gold designation since SolSmart began this year. It is in the only city in Texas to receive the award.

Danielle Murray, a manager at Austin Energy, is part of the team that applied for the award. She says it’s great: “We’re happy to represent Texas and I think lay the path for other municipalities that might follow in our footsteps.”

This award was given through the SolSmart program and presented at International City/County Management Association Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. The SolSmart program recognizes cities and towns that are working to make solar energy more viable. SolSmart is also a technical assistance program that helps communities expand their solar market by making the implementation process of solar energy easier for homes and businesses.

SolSmart comes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, which aims to make solar energy as competitive in cost as other forms of energy by 2020.

Solar energy is becoming big business in Texas. The state’s solar capacity is already in the top 10 in the nation, and is expected to double this year, which would make it the fastest-growing utility-scale solar market in the U.S.

That’s good news for people like Jay Bramble, who began working at Lighthouse Solar in Austin last year. The city estimates there are about 600 solar energy jobs in Texas, up drastically over the past decade. Jay picked up a job in solar sales after quitting teaching, saying, “I believe in solar. I believe we’re doing things that are good for the environment and good for people… personally and financially.”

By the end of 2015, Austin Energy said they had nearly 4,500 homes that have received $50 million worth of rebates for installing solar panels since the program began in 2004. In Fiscal Year 2015, the utility company issued $6.7 million in residential rebates.

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