One Solar America Cities project proves that you don’t have to live in a sunny state like California, Nevada, or Arizona to save on fuel costs by harvesting energy from the sun. The challenges its planners had to overcome hold valuable lessons for managers of similar projects elsewhere.


Funded by the Recovery Act, a Midwestern city has worked with EERE to install and demonstrate a solar thermal district heating system that will serve as a model for using solar energy in  regions  not exactly known for their sunny skies, such as the Northwest, the Midwest, and much of the East Coast. Projects like this one accelerate the adoption of solar energy technologies for a cleaner, more secure energy future, by paving the way for similar solar projects all over the country.


Unfortunately, the project faced two critical challenges that required support from EERE Project Officers. First, as there are no American manufacturers of large-format solar thermal collectors like those required for this project, the recipient requested a waiver for the Buy American Provision but was initially rejected. Second, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review was held up due to concerns over the look of the solar power system within its historic neighborhood.


The answer?  Careful monitoring and communication.  The Project Officer reached out to the Buy American waiver review committee to understand the grounds under which the recipient’s waiver was denied.  Through these discussions, the Project Officer determined that there was a misunderstanding surrounding the design requirements used to justify the waiver. Then the officer worked with the review committee and the recipient to provide more information on which to base decisions and develop a revised waiver request, thus keeping the project on schedule.


Similarly, the Project Officer and the Golden Field Office NEPA team engaged the recipient to address concerns. The NEPA team worked closely with the State Historical Society to ensure that the project would have no effect on nearby historic properties or the historic neighborhood.


As a result, the waiver was successfully granted and the NEPA requirements were satisfied in a just a few days, allowing the recipient to immediately place the order for the solar collectors.  This coordinated action allowed nearly 20% of the project’s Recovery Act funds to be disbursed, helping the Solar Program achieve its year-end payment targets.