Community

The city’s annual Solar Tour is slated for Saturday.

Residents will span the city for a self-guided tour of residential and commercial properties powered by solar energy. Experts will also provide a tutorial on solar basics and the potential for solar power locally and across the state.

The 8th annual tour comes about six months after Louisville Metro government officials launched an advocacy plan to promote solar use called Solar Over Louisville.

To date, about 250 residential properties are hooked up to solar energy, including the large Sheppard Square housing complex near downtown Louisville, said Nancy Givens, a spokeswoman for Solar Over Louisville.

The spread of solar power use in Louisville is slowly picking up pace, Givens said. Events like Saturday’s tour are meant to amplify support for solar and highlight action needed to make solar more accessible.

“To a lot of people, it still seems like a foreign entity,” she said.

To break that stigma, she said solar advocates are pushing a handful of initiatives on state and local lawmakers. Efforts focused on breaking the state’s attraction to coal fueled energy got a boost earlier this year at the governor’s annual conference on the energy and environment, said Givens.

The focus of the conference has long been on natural gas, coal and nuclear power. This year, however, “the entire focus was on corporate sustainable responsibility, sustainability and renewable energy.”

“It was a sea-change,” Givens said.

This new focus is being driven, in part, by a corporation-led movement towards sustainable practices, Givens said.

“Governments are being forced to be responsive,” she said.

Givens also pointed to the need to expand incentive programs that allow property owners to finance energy through private loans, which are paid back via property valuation assessments.

Last year, state lawmakers paved the way for local governments to create Energy Project Assessment Districts, which allow certain property owners, specifically those owning commercial, industrial and multifamily housing units, to take out private loans and pay them back through property valuation assessments.

The Louisville Metro Council approved a local program earlier this year, but it’s yet to roll-out, said Councilman Bill Hollander, chair of the council’s majority caucus. He said the program still needs regulation policy, which is being crafted by the city’s Office of Sustainability.

A spokesman for the city’s Develop Louisville department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the program’s evolution.

Under the program, single family homes would fail to qualify for incentives, Hollander said. Allowing single family residential property owners to qualify for incentives, he added, hinges on a change in state law.

Givens called such programs a “new frontier” in sustainable energy.

Locally, Hollander said there is no legislative action on the council’s agenda directly dealing with advancing the accessibility of solar power.

He said a “series of meetings” are ongoing related to reworking the city’s permitting process for the installation of solar infrastructure.

Givens said this process is too slow. In Louisville, gaining a permit to install solar infrastructure can take weeks, whereas in some other cities it’s as quick as 24 hours.

“Delays like that cost homeowners and installer companies money,” she said.

She said Louisville Metro government officials applied for a federal grant to assist in streamlining the permitting process. The SolSmart grant program is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and focuses on reducing “soft costs” of solar installation, like permitting, according to the program’s website.

A spokesman for the city did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I think we’re making progress on the issue,” Hollander said.

Givens praised the recent effort to advance solar in the city, but said now is the time to push for even more accessibility.

Saturday’s tour will touch on these themes, Givens said, and serve as a way to “clamor against the city to develop solar.”

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.