Missoula County has been designated the first SolSmart county in Montana.

Assistant Director for Missoula County Community and Planning Services, Karen Hughes, said the county received the distinction for reducing barriers for those who want to install solar energy for their homes and businesses.

“That means there are more opportunities for energy independence and energy conservation work,” Hughes said. “The SolSmart Program is part of a larger program from the Department of Energy, and they have been looking for communities who are interested in reducing barriers to solar development. Through our efforts in energy conservation and climate action, we connected with the Montana Renewable Energy Association, so we thought it would be worth our time to see if a number of Montana communities might be interested.”

Hughes described the steps taken to achieve her SolSmart goals.

“We looked at our systems here in Missoula County,” she said. “How we do our permitting and we trained staff on best practices in planning and zoning work for solar installations. We documented out efforts and what we already have on our books. We didn’t have to do too much to achieve the bronze designation, and now we’re working towards a silver designation.”

Hughes said the county’s job is to provide opportunities and then allow the market to play its part in more solar operations in the Missoula area.

These actions provide opportunities for increased energy independence and encourage solar companies to do business in the area which drives economic development and creates local jobs.