Smart Communities Plan First (SCPF) is an example for the planning step of a grant program supporting municipal investments in clean energy. Communities create and adopt clean energy plans often as a prerequisite to qualify for implementation grants. Thorough planning will set communities up for successful implementation of clean energy projects. This Program In a Box focuses solely on project planning. State Energy Program (SEP) funding is typically used for planning; Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) funding is typically used for implementation.

Benefits for Communities that Plan First

  • Collecting data and establishing a municipal energy use baseline sets a solid foundation for prioritizing investments and tracking future performance.
  • Creating and supporting a committee of municipal staff members and volunteers ensures that stakeholder interests are addressed.
    • Outreach to key groups such as business leaders, neighborhood representatives, representatives of environmental justice communities, religious leaders, students, and seniors will strengthen plans, and increase the likelihood that recommendations will have broad support.
    • Community engagement leads to broad socialization and understanding.
  • Creating a plan is an ideal opportunity to identify and engage environmental justice communities.
  • Planning and prioritizing increase the likelihood that clean energy investments have strong support and demonstrate real value. This sets the stage for future energy stewardship.

How Communities Benefit from State Energy Offices Providing Technical Assistance

  • Building a program that offers participating municipalities access to state-wide procurement vehicles can reduce administrative barriers, particularly for small contracts.
  • Gaining access to expertise is essential for success.
  • Under-resourced municipalities often lack staff capacity and/or expertise to perform grant-funded tasks (e.g., analyzing data, developing plan documents, facilitating stakeholder outreach, grant writing, and preparing annual reports).
  • Partnering with regional planning agencies or institutions like state universities for technical assistance under a master contract to the State Energy Office can create a sustainable resource where needed professional expertise and institutional memory is shared by multiple municipalities.
  • Creating a state-wide contract with approved vendors for various clean energy technologies can leverage the expertise of the State Energy Office to support smaller communities that lack expertise evaluating vendor qualifications.

Examples Used to Develop This Program In a Box

Thank you to staff at the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation, and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection – Energy Programs Office, who generously shared their knowledge and experiences for this Box.

See the Massachusetts program .

See the Wisconsin program .

See the Pennsylvania program .

While these programs include both support for municipal energy planning and plan implementation, this Program In a Box focuses exclusively on the planning component of the programs. These states’ programs differ in important ways that provide useful perspectives for other states to consider.

The Massachusetts Green Communities Program is a comprehensive program involving energy reduction planning, annual progress reporting, and ongoing project implementation assistance which was created by statute in 2008. See an explanation of the five criteria a community must meet to be designated as a MA Green Community . In preparing this Box, we focused only on one of the five criteria, the development and formal adoption of a plan to reduce municipal energy use by 20%. The program has grown steadily; 290 of 351 Massachusetts municipalities are designated as Green Communities as of early 2023, with 187 of those also considered environmental justice communities.

The Massachusetts Green Communities program provides ongoing support to communities for implementation of their adoption of a 20% energy reduction plan. Once all five criteria are met, municipalities can apply for designation as a Green Community which qualifies them to receive an initial formula-based implementation grant award. If the municipality maintains its Green Community status and submits annual reports, it is eligible for subsequent competitive grant solicitations that support progress reporting and project implementation. If you are interested in learning more about the structure of the municipal grant component of the Massachusetts Green Communities Program, please contact E4TheFuture at

The Wisconsin Energy Independent Communities was created with one million dollars of funding from State Energy Program (SEP) provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). It provided resources for 82 communities to develop and formally adopt plans to provide 25% of their energy from renewable resources by 2025 (referred to as the 25/25 Plan). While funding to support planning ended in 2017, The Wisconsin State Energy Office continues to provide facilitation as municipalities work to take advantage of opportunities to improve their energy independence.

The Wisconsin State Energy Office also utilized $9.5 million of funding from the Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant (ARRA-EECBG) to provide implementation grants to communities that had successfully adopted a 25/25 plan. After municipalities became Energy Independent Communities, they were also eligible for additional grant funding. The Wisconsin Energy Independent Communities was also referred to as the Clean Energy Investments in Wisconsin Communities at one point.

In preparing this Program In a Box, we focused only on the planning, not the implementation, component of the Wisconsin Energy Independent Communities program. In the future, we expect to create a Program In a Box to assist State Energy Offices with implementing projects from funding sources such as IIJA-EECBG. In the interim, if you are interested in more information on the Wisconsin Energy Independent Communities Program, please contact E4TheFuture at

The Pennsylvania Local Climate Action Program (LCAP) was created by the PA Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Energy Office in 2019 and was turned over to Penn State in 2022. The program partners local PA governments with upper-level college and university students to develop greenhouse gas inventories and climate action plans for their communities. LCAP takes place in two stages after community and student teams have been made. First, during the fall, teams focus on developing local greenhouse gas inventories. Later, teams transition to working on developing local climate action plans using community engagement. Throughout the program the local government participants and students are trained by Penn State professors. All government participants are granted a yearlong ICLEI membership with access to their ClearPath tool and associated technical assistance from ICLEI.