A grant may soon make setting up solar panels for residents and small businesses easier and more affordable.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Energy provides $1.6 million to help improve the permitting process, promote financing options, generate publicity for clean energy and jobs, and create a standard for connecting solar systems to the power grid, according to a news release.

Alachua County was included as a recipient as part of the six-county Go SOLAR Florida team. The team also includes Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange and St. Lucie counties.

Holly Banner, a planner for the Alachua County Growth Management Department, will oversee the county’s participation in the initiative. She said it will mostly simplify the permitting and installation process locally.

“Data shows that 64 percent of the cost of solar installations is related to the soft costs, not related to the cost of the panels themselves,” she said.

Banner said reducing these soft costs will make the total ownership and installation price tag of solar panels more predictable.

She said working with other counties that have already developed online permitting systems and marketing plans, like Broward County, will benefit Alachua County. Banner also said developing a guide to financing options would be part of the county’s participation.

Barry Jacobson, president of Gainesville-based Solar Impact Inc., said he thinks these improvements will be helpful, but the solar business is already doing well on its own.

“I don’t see it being a huge game changer,” he said, “because currently the financials for solar make a lot of sense as it is.”

Antony Cato, a 19-year-old Santa Fe College political science sophomore, said programs like this that move the county forward in creating renewable sources of energy are a great use of taxpayer dollars.

“So often we see wasteful spending or spending that is very controversial,” he said. “In this case, whether you’re an environmentalist or a fiscally-conservative person, there is a benefit.”

A version of this story ran on page 9 on 11/13/2013 under the headline "Alachua County included in solar panel grant to help locals"

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