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Solar Project Development Pathway & Resources

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Most solar projects follow a common project development pathway from a project's conception to its completion. This page details the major steps you will take along your pathway. Each step includes various resources and tools to assist you in achieving the development of your solar project. Municipalities can use the Guidance for Submitting Solar Project Progress Spreadsheet (XLSX)(1 pg, 19 K) to share progress along their project development pathway. For a concise description and visual representation of the pathway, see this print-friendly roadmap.

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Project Development Pathway

Step 1: Establish a solar project development and/or renewable energy usage goal

Establishing a publicly available solar project development and/or renewable energy usage goal helps bring clarity and focus to the process of developing solar projects. It gives your local government direction and affirms your intent to both you and your stakeholders. Establishing a goal also helps institutionalize your municipality’s intent and serves as means to determine if you are still on right track.

Resources Details
Video: Module 1 – Goal Setting and Clarification This training discusses different types of goal setting for renewable energy development, and the importance of clarifying your priorities as your set out to achieve those goals.
Guidance: Guidance for Setting a Renewable Energy Goal This EPA document provides a framework to local governments for why and how to set a renewable energy goal and discusses the key considerations and benefits of doing so. At the end of the document, there is a three-page worksheet to help you take actionable steps toward setting a renewable energy goal.
Example: Tompkins County, NY Public Commitment (Webpage) Tompkins County, NY's website details their renewable energy and GHG emissions reduction goals. It also has several iterations of their energy plans, GHG inventories, and resources for local governments in NY that are updating their land use plans.
Example: Philadelphia, PA Public Commitment (Municipal Energy Plan) (PDF) (28 pp, 2.8MB) Philadelphia's comprehensive Energy Master Plan lays out clear energy efficiency, GHG reduction, and renewable energy goals city-wide. Pages 5-8 and 21-26 are particularly relevant to on-site solar goals.
Example: Town of Amherst, MA Public Commitment (Town Bylaw) (PDF) (2 pp, 79K) A recently approved Amherst Bylaw (Article 15) requires that major new municipal buildings—those costing over $1 million—produce as much renewable energy as they consume.
Example: City of Portland, OR Public Commitment (Binding Resolution) (PDF) (7 pp, 3.7MB) Portland's Council resolution establishes "binding" city-wide renewable energy goal with biennial progress reports.

Step 2: Develop a project development plan (optional)

One of the best indicators of project development success includes use of a solar project development plan. The plan will detail your local government's specific set of circumstances and chart a pathway from start to finish towards realizing the development of your solar project.

Resources Details
Example: City of Pasadena, CA Distributed PV Potential Assessment (PDF) (8 pp, 1MB) This report describes the methodology and results of a Distributed PV Potential Assessment that quantifies the technical potential for distributed PV on rooftops and parking lots in the city.
Example: City of Orlando, FL Municipal Operations Sustainability Plan: Progress Report (PDF) (35 pp, 1.7MB) This progress report focuses on the goals, benchmarks, and action items that City offices and employees take to make the city more sustainable. See pages 10-13 for Orlando's specific solar installation goals.
Example: City of San Diego Solar Energy Implementation Plan (PDF) (22 pp, 521K) This detailed plan sets various short-term and long-term goals to achieve 50 MW of additional local renewable energy installed by 2013 (and 50 MW of reduced energy consumption by 2020, for 100 MW of "clean energy" by 2020.)
Publication: Solar Powering Your Community: A Guide for Local Governments (PDF) (172 pp, 6.3MB) This DOE guide is a comprehensive resource created to assist local governments and stakeholders in designing and implementing a strategic local solar plan. It includes examples and models that have been field-tested in cities and counties around the country, which can help stimulate ideas or provide a framework for a comprehensive solar plan for a community.
Tool: Community Solar Solutions Tool The Community Solar Value Project has designed this toolbox to support developing community solar, shared-solar and integrated DER programs. The toolbox identifies challenge areas, best-practices and innovations that add value, while speeding the path to market for community solar programs.

Step 3: Assess your solar site opportunities; catalog site information and collect your utility data

It is critically important to understand your solar site opportunities, which starts with collecting site information and utility data. This information becomes critical when seeking project proposals from developers and is the basis for conducting site assessments to identify the most suitable sites.

Resources Details
Video: Module 2a – Screening and Identifying PV Projects This training discusses the different drivers of PV project potential, the steps of the PV screening process, and how you can assess your site using energy modeling tools, such as REopt Lite, that incorporate these drivers.
Video: Module 2b – ReOpt Lite Demo This training provides a demonstration of NREL’s publicly available web tool - ReOpt Lite - which you can use to evaluate opportunities for PV and storage at your site.
Video: Module 3 – Detailed Site Evaluation, Project Validation, and Permitting This training discusses issues related to conducting a detailed site evaluation which will identify potential barriers such as solar policy, site plans and usage, technical feasibility, economic factors, land use permitting, and mounting type.
Video: Site Assessments for Solar Projects This EPA video explains the steps for assessing the potential of various locations for possible solar project development. It also shares resources to help viewers begin a solar project site assessment.
Template: Solar Site Assessment and Utility Data Spreadsheet (XLS)(1 pg, 40 K) This template is designed to help users collect information about potential solar project sites.
Tool: Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) Calculator (XLS)(1 pg, 34 K) This calculator assists in evaluating informal/unsolicited bid pricing for solar photovoltaic (PV) projects.
Tool: Distribution Grid Integration Unit Cost Database This tool allows users to estimate and compare costs associated with the integration of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems into the standard electric grid.
Tool: Reopt Lite REopt Lite is an online version of NREL’s more comprehensive REopt model. The REopt Lite web tool helps building managers: evaluate the economic viability of grid-connected PV and battery storage at a site; identify system sizes and battery dispatch strategies to minimize energy costs; and estimate how long a system can sustain critical load during a grid outage. Watch a video on using Reopt Lite here.
Tool: PVWatts Calculator This NREL tool estimates the energy production and cost of energy of grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) energy systems. It allows users to easily develop estimates of the performance of potential PV installations.
Tool: System Advisor Model (SAM) This performance and financial model is designed to facilitate decision making for people involved in the renewable energy industry. SAM makes performance predictions and cost of energy estimates for grid-connected power projects based on installation and operating costs and system design parameters that users specify as inputs to the model.
Resource: Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States. DSIRE helps users find incentive programs that can reduce installation or purchase costs of technologies like photovoltaic systems.

Step 4: Develop and issue a solar Request for Proposals (RFP)

Once you have collected the necessary information and data regarding your solar site opportunities, the next step is to develop and issue a solar Request for Proposals (RFP). An RFP is a solicitation for products and services that outlines the general terms and conditions of request from market suppliers. For solar, this can involve a wide array of requirements. If you are interested in making claims about using renewable energy, be sure to retain the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) from your project. The following resources will help guide you in putting together your RFP.

Resources Details
Video: Module 4 – Project Financing, Policy, and Incentives This training discusses the policies and incentives that may affect your potential PV project, the different financing types available to local governments, and options between owning or finance a system.
Video: Module 5 – Deciding on a Financing Approach and Beginning PV Procurement This training discusses the nuances of PV financial models and how they impact your PV procurement process.
Publication: Steps to a Successful Solar Request for Proposal This publication summarizes the steps for preparing a successful request for proposal (RFP). It includes case studies drawing from the experiences of the City of Milwaukee, WI and the City of San Jose, CA.
Publication: Solar Request for Proposals & Procurement Guidance: Customizable templates to facilitate installing solar on your building (DOCX) (12 pp, 588K) The purpose of this RFP template is to provide guidance for the procurement of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. This template contains information on project background, scope of work, proposal requirements, evaluation criteria and recommended information to provide to respondents.
Guidance: Guide to Making Claims About Your Solar Power Use This guide describes best practices for appropriately explaining and characterizing solar power activities and the fundamental importance of renewable energy certificates (RECs) for solar power use claims.
Publication: Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) Arbitrage This document describes a green power procurement strategy used by electricity consumers to simultaneously meet two objectives:  1) decrease the cost of their renewable electricity use and 2) substantiate renewable electricity use and carbon footprint reduction claims.
Video: RECs: Making Green Power Possible This EPA video addresses common questions and concerns about the role and benefits of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). RECs represent the environmental and other non-power attributes of renewable electricity generation and are a component of all renewable electricity products.
Example: City of San Jose, CA RFP for Solar Energy Installations on Municipal Lands (PDF) (32 pp, 404K) In this example, the City of San Jose, CA put out an RFP for solar PV systems on various city-owned lands and buildings.
Example: City of Atlanta, GA RFP The City of Atlanta, GA’s RFP for solar arrays on 28 potential locations serves as another example for cities going through the solar procurement process.
Template: Model Leases and Power Purchase Agreement (PPAs) This webpage provides various downloadable and editable PPA agreement templates for commercial and industrial customers.
Template: Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) Template This Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) template includes customizable sections covering: Basic Terms and Conditions, System Description, Credit Information, General Terms and Conditions, a Memorandum of License Form, and an Easement Agreement Form.
Template: Model Land Lease and Solar Easement Agreement (DOCX) (37 pp, 89K) This document provides a model land lease and solar easement agreement for community solar gardens.

Step 5: Review and evaluate your project proposals

An RFP will generally result in one or more project proposals from developers. Evaluating these project proposals objectively can be challenging, yet is critical for selecting the best project that meets your local government's goals.

Resources Details
Template: Solar RFP Proposal Evaluation Matrix (XLS)(1 pg, 66 K) This solar proposal evaluation matrix contains suggested evaluation criteria and point values for each criterion to use when evaluating multiple proposals.

Step 6: Select a project proposal and sign a contract

You are in the home stretch! After you identify the best project opportunity, it is time to sign a contract. Once you select a project and sign a contract, be sure to let EPA know so we can share your success with your peers. Also, you should consider issuing a press release to publicize your future project more broadly.

Resources Details
Template: Local Government Solar Project Press Release Template(7 pp, 127 K) This document provides examples of press release templates to help municipalities announce their efforts to develop solar projects.

Step 7: Build and commission your project

Once your project is built and generating solar power, EPA would be excited to share your success. Send us an email and provide us a photo of your new project.

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