La Crescent

The first solar-ready home certification program in the U.S.

December 2021

Providing Residential
Options

 

La Crescent, Minn. became the first SolSmart certified community in the country, and the first GreenStep City in the state to adopt a residential solar ready home certification.

“This is a nice partnership for the city to have with residents who are building homes and with contractors,” says Councilmember Teresa O’Donnell-Ebner of the voluntary program, ”It is primarily educational in that it helps people know what their options are.”

 

Every contractor and city official I’ve ever talked to says it is much easier and less costly to plan for solar before a home is built rather than retrofit after.

La Crescent’s Sustainability Director Jason Ludwigson

“Every contractor and city official I’ve ever talked to says it is much easier and less costly to plan for solar before a home is built rather than retrofit after,” shares Jason Ludwigson, La Crescent’s Sustainability Director. The steps on the certification “can make your home solar ready which lowers the cost and the barriers.”

The certification information is shared with applicants when residential construction permits are requested. If the one-page checklist is completed there is a $50 rebate. This, Ludwigson says, was one of the more difficult decisions, “should the rebate go to the developer, architect, or property owner. After much conversation we decided that the party most likely to engage would be the property owner.” 

Certification Checklist

The four sections in the checklist are designed to educate and plan for a future potential solar electric array:

  • Array Location designs for optimization of the solar resource by placement, angle, and a current and future shading analysis.
  • Code addresses fire and electrical code.
  • Architectural Components ensure there is available space for the balance-of-system components. These are all the other parts of a solar PV system like the inverter, meter, circuits in the load center, or conduit.
  • Shading Prevention addresses landscape plantings, or roof penetrations such as plumbing or vent stacks so they won’t create shade on a potential array now or in the future. 

Collaborative
Contributions

 

Development started with a US EPA Solar Photovoltaic Specification, Checklist, and Guide (PDF) as a foundation, but was reduced to the essentials after eight months of reviews by many partners.

“We wanted to narrow down the scope to include only what people would need to consider and nothing more, to make the certification easier to adopt,” says Ludwigson.

Solar zoning experts from the nonprofit Great Plains Institute, solar specialists from the MN Department of Commerce, policy researchers from the University of Minnesota, local electric utilities MiEnergy and Excel Energy, and three local solar installers all added their insights and touches to the guide. 
 

 

We made sure the language was inclusive to prepare for multiple options. Following the checklist can accommodate micro-inverters, large central inverters, high voltage DC components, or battery backups, so future choices are not limited.

Tim Gulden, Winona Renewable Energy, solar contractor involved in the project

Patience and Persistence

Since Ludwigson and O’Donnell-Ebner serve on La Crescent’s GreenStep committee, as the certification was developed, they shared progress with the full council. The only point of debate was whether the program would be mandatory or voluntary and once it was confirmed to be voluntary then it was “well supported by council,” said Ludwigson
 
When asked what he might tell other municipalities interested in a similar certification, Ludwigson advised them to “be patient and persistent. It may take a while but there is a network of really great resources in Minnesota including the University of Minnesota, CERTs, and the Great Plains Institute that made it possible for a smaller city with few staff to do this project.”
 

It may take a while but there is a network of really great resources in Minnesota that made it possible for a smaller city with few staff to do this project.

La Crescent’s Sustainability Director Jason Ludwigson

SolSmart Certification

La Crescent attained the highest Gold SolSmart Certification in April 2021. Funding from the national SolSmart program helped pay for some of the technical resources used in developing the solar ready home certification. SolSmart is a US Department of Energy initiative designed to help communities bring solar to their residents as an economic development tool.

La Crescent is also part of the Minnesota GreenStep City program, and advanced to Step Three in June 2020. GreenStep is a free continuous improvement program where cities select to work on voluntary actions that focus on cost savings, energy use reductions, and encourage civic engagement.

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