Solsmart: A Regional Approach to Solar Energy Adoption

The SolSmart program is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and offers expert technical assistance at no cost to help regional organizations, counties, and local governments implement nationally recognized best practices to advance solar energy adoption. Learn more about SolSmart and the Regional Organization Designation here. The webpage features links to SolSmart’s new website, webinar recordings and insights from other Regional Organizations that have been designated.


Recent changes have been made to the program, including:  


  • New SolSmart Website – Includes updated guidance, community success stories, refreshed resources, and a new designee map. Visit the website here.  
  • New SolSmart Program Guides – Check out the new Regional Pathway Program Guide, which provides information and guidance to seek regional designation, as well as a new Standard Pathway Program Guide for local governments and a Modified Pathway Program Guide for counties.   
  • New SolSmart Criteria – Developed in consultation with industry experts, the SolSmart criteria have been improved to highlight the most up-to-date solar best practices, including
    actions that support solar in combination with energy storage and electric vehicles, actions to ensure solar is accessible to low-income communities, and actions to develop metrics and track your progress.    
  • New Platinum Designation Tier – Cities, Towns, Counties, and Regional Organizations are now able to achieve Platinum Designation, demonstrating a deep level of commitment to solar readiness and a desire to encourage solar development within the community!  

Regional organizations and cities and counties are all eligible to be designated. If you have a regional newsletter, blog or social media this is a great place to share about the program.

Click here to download the above flyer which explains the Regional Organization Designation Pathway. 

SolSmart – Locally 
Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC)

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC, pronounced “morp-see”), looking to become the go-to resource in Central Ohio for preparing communities to be solar-ready, received a SolSmart Silver designation in 2021.

SolSmart advisors have provided MORPC with Technical Assistance to help the organization spin up a regional community energy strategy. The strategy brings together plans for energy efficiency upgrades, solar deployment, electric vehicle charging, and community engagement and education. SolSmart advisors also assisted with feasibility assessments for one particular component, the development of cooperative solar purchasing agreements at the community level. MORCP hopes to execute the first of these structures in the coming years.

SolSmart resources have also helped MORPC to engage member localities around the designation process. In 2021 just two had achieved SolSmart designation; today, the number stands at nine and several more are moving forward with designation. MORPC is now rolling out a ‘planner pool’ technical assistance model to provide zoning and permitting review for member communities looking to engage in SolSmart or smooth solar deployment. In addition, they’ve folded solar energy readiness review into their own local sustainability designation program, Sustainable 2050.

“It’s been helpful because it provides another tool in the toolbelt to allow our diverse set of local governments to jump onboard based on where they are already and their specific needs, which differs widely by community,” comments Brian Filiatraut, Energy and Sustainability Program Manager at MORPC. “We’re pushing ahead on a number of climate and clean energy initiatives, and [SolSmart] fits very well with them.”

As part of a larger programmatic commitment to prepare its region for the transition to renewable energy, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission has been a SolSmart Advisor and Bronze Member since 2020.

In its SolSmart application, DVRPC committed to use the program’s resources to help staff explore ways to implement quantifiable metrics for solar PV in its long-range plan. That plan, still in the development process, builds on DVRPC’s pre-existing commitment to reduce the region’s overall greenhouse gas emissions to 60% of 2005 levels by 2040. SolSmart’s program guides and technical assistance served as a framework to guide the Commission’s outreach to utility providers and localities and sponsor discussions on solar development issues like interconnections, shared solar, and net metering.

As a SolSmart Advisor, DVRPC has led two technical assistance cohorts to help localities in its region achieve SolSmart designations. A major goal of these efforts was to reduce the soft costs of solar installation, which DVRPC estimates account for as much as 64% of the total installed cost of a rooftop PV system and represent an increasingly large share of overall installation costs. DVRPC staff provided each member community with a comprehensive review of its zoning and permitting process, clarifying potential pitfalls and opportunities for process streamlining or revision. They also helped local staff develop public-facing checklists and guides to walk individuals and businesses through the process of permitting and installing on-site solar, and advised on other issues. These included sensitive regulations for solar panels on historically protected structures, integrating solar development into local comprehensive and sustainability plans, and raising public awareness about the localities’ newly updated solar regulations. Through the two cohorts, in 2018 and 2018, seventeen communities either achieved SolSmart designations or are pending designations. DVRPC’s website hosts a map of SolSmart communities at the bronze, gold, and pending designation levels.

Additionally, DVRPC merged its SolSmart material with existing solar deployment resources onto a common page on its website. Here interested citizens, local officials, and planners can find links to training materials, sample ordinances and checklists from designated communities, and links to public resources like solar potential maps, rollout metrics, and statewide solar siting analyses. Materials are organized by theme, including metrics tracking, zoning, permitting, inspection, fire safety, media campaigns, and utility connection resources.

Building on the success of their two SolSmart Advisor cohorts, DVRPC is now assisting two large counties with achieving designations. They recently offered a regional training on best practices for permitting & inspection and supported Chester County in hosting a planning and zoning training for localities in its jurisdiction.

Region 9 Development Commission, located in Mankato, MN, was awarded the SolSmart Silver designation in March 2022 and is actively working towards obtaining Gold designation. Read on to learn more about their experiences, and how they are using the program to support communities in their region.

“Region Nine pursued SolSmart designation so we could be a better resource to the communities we serve. Through the designation process, our staff reached out to solar stakeholders including installers, utilities, and banks. These interviews allowed our staff to learn about the solar landscape of south-central Minnesota and gave our team a stronger ability to provide technical assistance on solar development as the energy transition hastens. The SolSmart process also resulted in Region Nine developing a solar resource page that our communities can utilize to guide their decisions. As we pursue higher SolSmart designations, our staff will work to get member communities designated so that the knowledge and awareness of solar increases throughout our region. Additionally, SolSmart staff have continued to be a resource for Region Nine and our communities to make sense of emerging topics like utility scale battery storage.

Region Nine is working closely with our SolSmart TA provider who has been critical in helping us form a pathway for advancement. We have connected with multiple communities and focused on ordinance review, providing resources and recommendations for rooftop solar implementation, battery storage, and creating a cohort model for invested communities to approach solar development collaboratively. Through these conversations, Region Nine is confident that these efforts create a more robust understanding of solar energy and allow communities the resources they need to pursue state and federal funding opportunities in this space.”


New River Valley Regional Commission, based in Radford, VA received Solsmart Bronze Designation in 2020. They began the process in 2019 with a consultation call with Solsmart staff to learn more about the program. The program was presented to NRVRC’s Board in May 2019, where it was approved and staff soon began preparing a solar statement and letter of commitment. NRVRC was interested in pursuing designation for a variety of reasons. There was and is a growing demand for solar in the region, and demand for solar ready homes. NRVRC wanted to play a role advancing solar in the region, provide solar best practice resources for member local governments, and develop a repository of information and educational resources for member local governments, solar consumers and installers. NRVRC staff felt that there were “a lot of benefits to the program and flexibility that truly help regional organizations figure out the value add for their region.”

To obtain Bronze designation NRVRC created a webpage to host solar info, and during a quarterly call for planners in the New River Valley, brought on Solsmart trainers to speak about how to incorporate solar in land use plans and in zoning, set solar goals, and minimize risk for local governments. NRVRC also hosted a training for permitting staff in the region, and addressed applicable building codes and standards, the permitting process, and ‘what to look for when you go out for solar inspections.’

Speaking about the designation, Executive Director Kevin Byrd said, “the Regional Commission is excited to receive the SolSmart Bronze designation as an acknowledgement of the agency’s efforts to provide technical assistance to our members on energy alternatives.  As solar energy becomes more affordable, we are helping position the region to welcome the technology.” Aphi Fancon, a senior planner with the Regional Commission, led the agency through the designation process and shared, “we have seen high-level of engagement on the topic with our members and hope to see more pursuing their own designations in the future because it ultimately helps provide citizens and businesses with energy options.” Staff time to get designated was a few hours a week, and they built off existing work including a regional energy plan. While NRVRC decides if they will pursue further designation, they know that the resources they have developed will help the Commission’s member communities navigate solar development locally.

To support SolSmart efforts around the Regional Organization Pathway and to bring this important information to the over 500 national members of both organizations, the National Association of Development Organizations Research Foundation and NARC spoke with staff at designated organizations in the fall of 2021 to learn more about their involvement in the program and gather recommendations for other regional organizations considering pursuing designation.

The resulting publication, SolSmart: A Regional Approach to Solar Energy Adoption, includes insights into why organizations chose to participate in the program, tips on how to successfully prepare and conduct outreach, and how it can benefit communities. The document includes specific examples and links to SolSmart resources. Click here to download the report (PDF).

Please contact Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig at [email protected] with any questions about SolSmart and how the NADO Research Foundation is supporting this nationwide effort.

On March 30, 2022, the NADO Research Foundationthe National Association of Regional Councils, and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council hosted a discussion with three Regional Development Organizations that have been involved in SolSmart’s Regional Organization Pathway Program. Staff at these organizations, Apalachee Regional Planning Council (FL)North Central Texas Council of Governments, and the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OH), discussed the value of solar to their regions, their interest in the SolSmart program, and how they hope adoption of solar in their regions will change after designation. Theresa Perry at the Interstate Renewable Energy Council provided a short overview of the SolSmart program and its benefits and led a roundtable discussion with the panelists.

Solar Power in Your Community Guidebook

The Solar Power in Your Community guidebook serves as a resource to assist government officials and stakeholders in increasing deployment and local access to solar photovoltaics.

Through diverse case studies, information about new technologies, and more, you will gain invaluable insight and strategies for improving the equity of solar deployment at the local level. The guidebook is produced by The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and The National Renewable Energy Lab.

Access the guidebook to learn more.


Contact Joe D'Antonio

Regional Development Researcher Andrew Coker joined the NADO team in March of 2023 after spending two and a half years as the Regional Economic Resiliency Coordinator at West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

At NADO, Andrew conducts research on the newest economic and community development best practices from Economic Development Districts across the country. He helps produce easily digestible information on complex regional issues through case studies, tip sheets, and research reports. Andrew also hosts training and professional development opportunities including conference sessions and virtual webinars for member regional development organizations.

Andrew is one of our Missouri-based team members and enjoys reading and training for his next triathlon.

Jack Morgan came to the NADO team in 2022 after seven years with the National Association of Counties (NACo) as a Program and Senior Program Manager. Prior to NACo, Jack was a Policy Analyst for Friends of Southwest Virginia. Jack holds a bachelor’s in geography from Emory & Henry College and a master’s in geography from Appalachian State University.

As a NADO Senior Program Manager, Jack leads capacity-building and peer-learning work supporting energy communities in economic transition, regional resilience, and recreation economies. He also helps with the EDA-Austin training program Emerging Leaders.

Jack is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is a member of the American Planning Association (APA) in the Regional & Intergovernmental Planning division. He also serves on the Emory & Henry College Alumni Board.

Taking road trips, reading non-fiction, and indulging in top-notch barbecue and coffee round out Jack’s days. He loves maps, mountains, and of course, all things sports.

Karron Grant joined the NADO team in 2023 as Administrative Specialist and is the first face (or voice) you’ll see or hear when reaching out to NADO. As Administrative Specialist, Karron manages our database and coordinates NADO event operations. He ensures members’ needs are met, contact information stays current, and NADO’s office is running efficiently.

Karron came to NADO after four years in the classroom teaching at The New Century School and Old Mill Middle North where he received the Patriot of the Year award. He attended Towson University and the University of Maryland Global Campus and holds a bachelor’s in international studies and humanities.

Visiting art galleries and museums, playing basketball and bowling, and taking in movies and music are some of Karron’s interests and hobbies.

Deputy Executive Director Laurie Thompson has been with NADO for 25 years. Laurie helps keep the NADO and NADO Research Foundation wheels turning through management of the daily operations of the Research Foundation, securing financial resources and overseeing grants management, and helping execute NADO’s Annual Training Conference each year.

Laurie holds a bachelor’s in public affairs and government from Mount Vernon College and a master’s in health services administration from The George Washington University. Prior to NADO, Laurie spent time as a Field Specialist and an Eagle Staff Fund Director at First Nations Development Institute.

When she’s taking a rare reprieve from her NADO work, Laurie enjoys traveling domestically and internationally to visit friends and family.

Jamie McCormick joined the NADO team as a Policy Fellow first in 2019, then moved into her current role as Legislative Associate in 2021. As Legislative Associate, Jamie keeps NADO members apprised of any policy and regulatory issues and communicates NADO’s policy priorities to federal stakeholders and partner organizations. She is also the first stop for members with inquiries on policy issues. The planning and execution of NADO & DDAA’s annual Washington Conference is also managed by Jamie.

Jamie holds a dual bachelor’s in political science and international relations from The State University of New York College at Geneseo and a master’s in international development studies from The George Washington University. In addition to her roles at NADO, Jamie also worked as a Legislative Assistant for the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association.

Outside of her NADO work, Jamie is an active volunteer with the VOLO Kids Foundation and a fundraiser for YMCA youth programs. She is also NADO’s resident baker regularly providing treats for those in NADO’s D.C. office. Traveling, taking her pup on walks, and hiking in the northeast keep Jamie busy. 

Brett Schwartz began at NADO in 2012 as a Research Fellow after earning his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The following year, he was promoted to Program Manager and has now been leading as an Associate Director since 2018. Brett is responsible for managing NADO’s Economic Development District Community of Practice (EDD CoP), as well as researching and monitoring the latest trends in regional economic development and resilience, including best practices for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). With more than a decade of experience on the NADO team, Brett is a dynamic relationship builder helping connect and build capacity among the national network of regional development organizations.

Brett also holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a certificate in mediation training. He’s a member of Catalyst Grantmakers of San Diego and Imperial Counties and was a participant in the 2021-22 Field Trips to the Future Cohort.

Brett is one of NADO’s West Coast team members residing in San Diego, CA where he enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts and festivals, and soaking up life as a parent of two young children.  

Communications Manager Katie Allison joined the team in 2023 to lead the strategic communication efforts of NADO. Katie creates and develops print and online materials, communicates NADO’s updates to members via weekly emails, and maintains content for and NADO’s social media channels. She also works with different departments to generate new ideas and strategies to effectively describe and promote the important work NADO is doing for EDDs and RDOs across the country.

An experienced nonprofit communications professional, Katie has worked for organizations in western North Carolina for nearly a decade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from Wingate University where she was a four-year student athlete. Katie has also completed Vision Henderson County, a comprehensive leadership development program that promotes informed and committed civic volunteerism.

Katie stays busy trying to keep up with her two young sons whom she enjoys exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains with. Traveling to new and favorite places and cheering on the Atlanta Braves are some of her family’s favorite pastimes.

Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig has been a member of the NADO team since 2021, and helps with NADO’s EDD Community of Practice, EDD staff capacity building and other grants on a range of subjects, including equity and solar energy. Before NADO, Ciara worked as a Planner for the County of Santa Barbara and an Assistant Project Manager for REM Consult. Ciara holds a bachelor’s in urban studies and French from Bryn Mawr and a master’s in urban studies from Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris.

When she’s not traveling, you can find her outrigger paddling and serving on the board of the Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, CA, near her home base of Santa Barbara.

Carrie Kissel has been a member of the NADO team since 2005 when she began as a Research Fellow. She later moved into the roles of Program Manager in 2006, and then Associate Director in 2011. Carrie holds a bachelor’s in anthropology from Ball State University and a master’s in public anthropology from American University. As Associate Director, Carrie oversees NADO’s work in rural transportation and rural wealth creation. She provides technical assistance and support to rural regions on transportation and economic development issues and develops training and peer exchange events on transportation issues and rural wealth creation as an economic development strategy.

Carrie is a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and secretary of TRB’s Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council. She is also a member of the American Anthropological Association and the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

Reading, gardening, hiking, and kayaking are a few of Carrie’s hobbies, and she organizes and facilitates a DEI/social justice-focused book club in her community.

Melissa Levy has worked at NADO as a Regional Development Researcher since February 2023 and is the Principal Consultant at her own firm specializing in wealth-based economic development consulting. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, Melissa brings a breadth of knowledge to her role as a Regional Development Researcher. Melissa provides in-depth research, coaching, and training on regional economic resilience, rural wealth creation strategies, and economic development.

Melissa is a North American Food Systems Network trained AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion (ACRE) facilitator and a WealthWorks coach, facilitator, and trainer. In addition to her professional work, Melissa serves on the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council, on the board of the Hinesburg Community Resource Center, and on the Hinesburg Economic Development Committee.

A true outdoorswoman, Melissa enjoys cross country and downhill skiing, paddleboarding, hiking, biking, and kayaking, as well as yoga, and teaching Tai Chi.

Program Manager Krishna Kunapareddy began her role with NADO in February of 2023 after 14 years of service at Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Missouri. Krishna manages NADO Research Foundation’s Planning and Environmental Linkages and Center for Environmental Excellence projects. In addition to researching and writing, Krishna also conducts virtual workshops on innovative tools and techniques related to transportation planning.

She holds an undergraduate degree from Andhra University and a master’s from JNT University in India, as well as a master’s in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington. Krishna is also a certified Smart Cities Academy Practitioner and holds the Location Advantage certificate from geographic information system software company ESRI.

In her spare time, Krishna volunteers with Mentors4College helping high schoolers better plan for their post-high school paths. She is also a dedicated advocate for documented H4 Dreamers.

Krystal DeLeon joined the NADO team in October of 2020 as Database & Grants Manger, but in January of 2022 transitioned to her current role as Operations Manager. Krystal keeps NADO running through behind the scenes work of invoicing, solving any database issues that may arise, producing membership reports, and much more. Her organizational skills and thorough knowledge help the NADO team operate more efficiently across all departments.

Prior to NADO, Krystal was the Conference Services Coordinator for State Services Organization. She is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), a licensed realtor, and holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Liberty University. When she’s not keeping NADO’s operations in order, Krystal enjoys running and rock climbing, and adventuring with her husband and son.

Senior Program Manager Bret Allphin joined NADO in April of 2022 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge after a 20-year career with Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to his bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public affairs, Bret is licensed Geographical Information Systems Professional (GISP). He is NADO’s go-to team member for all things mapping while also supporting members with transportation and economic development technical assistance services.

An avid sports aficionado and former collegiate athlete, Bret enjoys cheering on his Cincinnati Reds, hitting the trails on his mountain bike, and improving his golf game whenever possible. Bret is an involved community member in Marietta dedicating much of his spare time to serving on local nonprofit boards.

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Applications cannot be saved and returned to at a later time. It is recommended you compile all of your information in advance in a word processor and cut and paste into the application below.

2023 Impact Awards

The primary applicant must be a NADO member. Project partners, both NADO and non-members, can be recognized under "Project Partners" below.

Primary Project Contact:
This person will be the designated point of contact for all future awards-related correspondence.

Organization Address

Project Location (if different from Organization Address)

Executive Director

Additional Organizational Information
Please upload your organization's logo which will be included on the winning project award certificate.

Project Information
This title will be printed on the award certificate for winning projects and in all 2022 NADO Impact Award materials and cannot be changed.

Project Summary & Questions
Please craft clear, thoughtful, and engaging responses to the following questions. Use the following sections to tell us how your project has made an impact, such as its use of creative funding mechanisms, efforts to create efficiencies or reduce costs, unique partnership models, and emphasis on building resilience and/or enhancing your region's quality of life.

For award-winning projects, the information provided below may be used verbatim to inform project descriptions that will be published in the 2023 NADO Impact Awards materials and included on the NADO website.

Please submit at least one photo showing your project in action. Please keep file size to a minimum (<2Mb) and use JPEG format. If uploading multiple files, ZIP files prior to submitting. If you have trouble uploading images they can be directly emailed to Brett Schwartz at [email protected]. Include the project title they correspond to in the subject line of your email.

Note: Submitted photos may be used in NADO Impact Awards materials and in other NADO published materials with credit to your organization. Please also consider submitting photos for NADO's 2023 Photo Contest, which will be held this summer.

Your application is not submitted until you are directed to a confirmation page. If you have any questions or are unsure if your application has been submitted, please contact Brett Schwartz at [email protected]

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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.

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