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Chicago Pledges One-Day Solar Permitting Process

City and state government leaders stepped up to the podium at Solar Power International's official opening session Monday night, proclaiming their progress and ongoing support of solar energy.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn reiterated the state's renewable energy portfolio (RPS) standard of 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025, with its 6 percent carve-out for solar, and how last year the state increased its solar energy capacity by 76 percent. "We want to take advantage of every solar opportunity we can," he said.

Meanwhile, the city of Chicago continues to push ahead with renewable energy and related efforts on a number of fronts. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the creation of a new "Chicago Solar Express" program to streamline residential and commercial solar energy installations on rooftops, which promises an expedited one-day turnaround for residential solar rooftop permitting instead of the typical 30-day process – garnering immediate audience applause – and lowering fees from $375 to $275.

The program also incorporates new guidelines to clarify how contractors should design small and large systems, such as updates to ballast-design improvements, and a new online platform coming from ComEd by year's end through which applicants can submit, track, and pay for their applications to connect to the grid.

Emanuel noted that his own home now has a solar hot water system, so he can relate to "the whole experience" for solar permitting. Since prices have plummeted on the solar energy system side, he said now is the time for the public sector to match that "by bringing our price-points down."

A prime example of Chicago’s solar adoption is the Shedd Aquarium just down the road from the convention center, the nation's busiest aquarium with two million annual visitors. The institution already applied white soybean-based paint to its roof to reflect heat and lower electricity costs, and later added a rooftop garden, but this week the site commissioned a new 265-kW rooftop solar installation. 

"We'll always be known as the Windy City," quipped Emanuel, "but we want the city to be more friendly to solar capacity."

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