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City joins solar initiative
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A new regional solar initiative, joined by the City of Turlock Tuesday evening, may ease regulatory barriers to the installation of rooftop solar systems – and, possibly, create local jobs.

The Southwest Solar Transformation Initiative, a public-private partnership funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, looks to streamline and standardize permitting, zoning, metering, and connection processes, while improving financing options for residential and commercial rooftop solar systems.

“President Obama has made clear that we need an all-out, all-of-the-above American energy strategy fueled by homegrown and alternative energy sources designed and produced by American workers,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “Through the Rooftop Solar Challenge, the Energy Department is helping to unleash America's solar energy potential in the Southwest and communities across the country. These awards will reduce the costs homeowners and business pay to install solar energy systems, while at the same time saving time and money for local governments faced with tight budgets.”

Turlock was asked to take part in the initiative through the Smart Valley Places city group, as increasing solar generation will help meet state-mandate greenhouse gas emission goals. The SSTI’s reach extends as far as Colorado.

The initiative highlights the San Joaquin Valley in its most recent newsletter as a region which particularly stands to benefit from renewable energy. Widespread solar installation would create jobs, reduce household energy costs, and cut emissions. Building over productive agricultural land shouldn't be an option, but the myriad local rooftops present an ideal location.

“The goal is to facilitate solar development on rooftops,” said Michael Sigalia, member of the San Joaquin Valley Regional Policy Council and sponsor of the initiative. “Not prime ag land, but rooftops.”

In year one, the SSTI will look to build a framework for the system, by reaching out to member cities. Those cities will supply the initiative with copies of their own regulations, so the initiative may define best practices based on extant policies. Additionally, agency staff will work to develop and implement solar-friendly policies and programs.

Participating in the SSTI will not cost the City of Turlock in terms of funding, but will require a modest investment of staff time – between 80 and 120 hours.

That modest investment could pay off big, in additional Department of Energy funding, or in enhanced private sector investments in solar systems.

“It gets you on the radar with the DOE,” Sigalia said.