Columbia is one of the first 14 cities in the U.S. to receive a "gold designation" from SolSmart, a program funded through the Department of Energy. 

Columbia, which received the designation on Sept. 26, had already been recognized in May as an early adopter of the program.

SolSmart's gold designation is its highest award. The program's awards are given to cities that make efforts to ease installation and operation of solar energy systems by their residents. Kansas City and Gladstone, Missouri, also received the gold designation.

The program chose Columbia for its new building codes, which have been adjusted to allow new homes to be "solar ready." In a news release, the Columbia Water and Light Department listed the city's initiative to construct new roofs more strongly to support future solar panel installations.

The award also cited Columbia Water and Light's rebate program, which pays customers whose solar panels contribute to the grid.

The SolSmart program, which was founded in April, has given out 22 designations so far. Its goal is to designate 300 cities as either gold, silver or bronze over a three-year period.

While the recognition does not come with any money for the city, it offers free technical assistance with solar panel technology. 

Connie Kacprowicz, a spokesperson for the city of Columbia, said that the city hopes the technical help will allow Columbia to expand its solar power initiative and bring in new jobs.

Kacprowicz said that the city has seen a 55 percent increase in solar power usage since it began its initiative, with a total of around 90 businesses and homes in Columbia now using solar power.

Supervising editor is Kelsi Anderson.

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