Guidebook Offers Local Governments Strategies for Streamlining Home Solar Installations

Chuck Colgan's picture

A new guidebook outlining ways for California cities and counties to make permit processing and inspections for home rooftop solar electric systems quicker and more uniform is now available from CSE. Increasing solar energy adoption is a key component for many local jurisdictions in achieving goals for energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reductions and climate action plans.

The California Solar Permitting Guidebook addresses provisions of the Solar Permitting Efficiency Act (Assembly Bill 2188) signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September that require the state’s more than 540 cities and counties to adopt streamlined solar permitting processes by Sept. 30, 2015. The intention of the act is to help drive down rooftop solar installation costs for homeowners while increasing opportunities for solar businesses and reducing the workload of permitting agencies. California is the first state to mandate standardized solar permitting processes.

Overly complex regulations

Presently California cities and counties have a patchwork of unnecessarily complicated permitting and inspection regulations for small residential solar projects that slow down and add expense to solar installations, discouraging consumers and solar contractors alike, according to Tamara Gishri-Perry, a CSE senior project manager.

“California leads the nation in rooftop solar installations, but achieving the state’s ambitious goals for renewable energy will require even greater solar adoption, and the permitting process has been a major barrier,” Gishri-Perry said. “The new legislation is an opportunity for local governments to reduce their paperwork and costs for approving what are typically fairly simple home rooftop solar installations.”

Even though the price of solar has fallen by 50% since 2006, the “soft costs,” including the cost of getting a permit from a local building department, remain high. An expedited permitting process would mean applicants for solar PV systems under 10 kilowatts that fit certain criteria could use an online application process and expect approval by the local permitting agency within a few days.

The guidebook, published in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, contains best practices for permitting and inspection of home solar systems as well as standard application forms and checklists for solar installations. CSE’s renewable energy team compiled the guidebook with input from a task force of participants from state code agencies, local building departments and the solar industry. It is available online at www.energycenter.org/solarpermitting.

Assistance for local governments

CSE staff provides free technical assistance to any local government agency that wants to adopt the California Solar Permitting Guidebook and offers an implementation guide, model ordinance and other resources. They are planning webinars and in-person trainings in 2015 for local government officials focusing on the benefits of adopting the guidebook’s recommendations. For information, email solarpermitting@energycenter.org or call 213-481-6115.

CSE also is spearheading a statewide project to accelerate solar deployment and further reduce the soft costs of solar through the Rooftop Solar Challenge, a component of the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative that aims to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by 2020. CSE leads a project team that includes Optony Inc. and the Governor’s Office for Planning and Research. CSE also administers regional and statewide programs in energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean transportation and promotes sustainability education and outreach.

Two other CSE publications related to solar, Southern California Solar Finance Guide and Residential and Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing in California, are available online at www.energycenter.org/policy/research-reports.

Chuck Colgan