The study is part of the Southern California Rooftop Solar Challenge, a Department of Energy (DOE) program aimed at stimulating adoption of solar energy by reducing barriers and lowering costs for residential and small commercial installations. The program comes under DOE’s SunShot Initiative to make solar accessible and affordable nationwide.
CCSE received a $700,000 DOE award to lead a fact-finding team of 11 jurisdictions and five utilities across the region in developing guidelines for expedient and uniform permitting and standardized electric grid connection of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Twenty-two teams nationwide are examining the non-hardware, or soft, costs of PV systems, such as permitting, installation, design and maintenance, which account for up to 40 percent of the total cost of rooftop systems, according to the DOE.
The report finds that the solar permitting processes and related fees in the 11 cities and counties participating in the study vary greatly in their complexity and costs.
For example, the majority have online options for obtaining applications for permits, but only four jurisdictions give applicants the ability to submit documents online. Solar permitting fees also vary greatly, from nothing to $500 for residential systems, with only three jurisdictions charging more than $250.
The differences in regulations for the connection of rooftop solar to the electric grid also creates inconsistencies throughout the region in the way utilities process applications and the length of time it takes to interconnect systems, ranging from five to 25 days.
The report indicates all 11 jurisdictions in the study group have access to solar incentives for eligible installations and a range of available financing programs.
Over the next six months, the Southern California Rooftop Solar Challenge team will continue evaluating the existing policies to identify best practices within the region. They are also examining such related issues as net energy metering, increased financing options and zoning for solar.
"This dialogue between the Southern California jurisdictions, utilities and building officials is crucial to successfully streamlining the solar permitting process," said Tamara Gishri, CCSE’s regional SunShot program manager. "Once we have a good understanding of the many policies and procedures that govern solar, then we can develop a plan for improving jurisdictional and utility processes for solar, creating a model for the rest of region."