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Athens celebrates national gold designation for clean energy

The City of Athens encouraged the growth of clean and affordable solar energy, and its efforts were noticed when the national program SolSmart awarded the city with a gold recognition level. 

In 2017, Athens received the bronze designation for maintaining clean energy efforts throughout the city, but only six years later it was awarded the gold status.

A Facebook post by the city of Athens highlighted the new designation and shared the city’s efforts to gain the achievement.

“A gold designation shows we have met national best practices to encourage solar energy use at the local level,” according to the post. “The City of Athens worked with SolSmart’s no-cost technical assistance team to increase local knowledge of solar energy.” 

SolSmart is a U.S. Department of Energy program led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and the International City/County Management Association. Athens joined over 500 other cities, towns and regional organizations in gaining the SolSmart designation in leadership for solar energy.

Athens City Council President Sam Crowl talked about the designation and what it represents in terms of Athens’ leadership in solar panel usage.

“They want to try and make it as easy as possible for any individual to put solar panels on their roof,” he said. “We know that a lot of cities haven’t updated their code requirements in many years, maybe long before solar panels even were a popular thing.” 

Crowl said there could be a lot of permits or other obstacles that keep people from installing solar panels, which is why the SolSmart program targets encouraging cities to make it easier to use and install solar power.

He said Athens is a progressive city, and its sustainability efforts only continue to develop. He also said Athens Mayor Steve Patterson told him the city is not far off from achieving the platinum level designation, which is the highest achievement level through the program. 

Crowl highlighted the code changes made and updated to make solar panels more accessible for city residents. 

“We made a lot of changes to the requirements and code enforcement to really expedite the process of putting solar panels so that people don’t have all those obstacles,” Crowl said. “As I understand, it was a lot of the work that we did in the city for permitting and to encourage solar instead of discouraging.” 

The city’s website offers different ideas, resources and a checklist for Athens residents who are interested in installing solar energy in their home or business. 

The post indicated the city’s new commitment to Athens residents is a three-day business turnaround on permitting solar to their homes. 

The city also invested in adding solar at major energy-consuming facilities, including the community center, city pool and the wastewater treatment plant, Crowl said. 

“Our biggest energy user is our wastewater treatment plant, so that’s why we put that solar panel installation right by the plant … so that we can offset the amount we spend every year on electricity,” he said. 

Kokosing Solar, formerly known as Third Sun Solar, started in 2000, growing interest in solar energy and has become a respected leader and household name for local solar in Ohio.  

Crowl said one reason there is so much solar in the city is because of the work of a company like Kokosing being located in Athens.

Caitlin Garrity, marketing specialist for Kokosing Solar, said the company collaboratively works with the city of Athens to meet desired outcomes, installation timelines, project locations, aesthetics, costs, financing options and system designs. 

“We estimate that Kokosing Solar has installed about 3,400 kilowatts of DC power in and closely around The City of Athens,” Garrity wrote in an email. 

Kokosing’s recent solar installations for the city of Athens include the community center, wastewater treatment plant and city pool, Garrity said. 

Garrity said the combination with SolSmart and other federal incentives aimed at rural areas and former coal communities are enticing solar installations.

“The City of Athens has certainly been a leader in clean energy policy and deployment for many years,” Garrity wrote in an email. “(This) makes Athens and surrounding counties prime areas for businesses, non-profits, universities and local governments to deploy solar energy.”


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