Solar Permitting Guidebook Promotes California Solar Adoption

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Currently, cities in California each establish their own system for solar permitting. This has created a confusing system where some markets come out ahead, while others fall behind. To change this, California recently passed a bill that will make it the first state to mandate standardized solar permitting processes. In doing so, the state hopes to streamline the process and further drive down the cost of solar.

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. To help achieve this, the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) has released a new guidebook to help make permit processing and inspections for rooftop solar systems faster and more uniform.

The California Solar Permitting Guidebook also addresses the requirements of the Solar Permitting Efficiency Act (formerly Assembly Bill 2188) signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September 2014. The law requires the state’s more than 540 cities and counties to adopt streamlined solar permitting processes by September 30, 2015. In addition to driving down costs, the act is intended to increase opportunities for solar businesses and reduce the workload of permitting agencies.

“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,” Tamara Gishri-Perry, a CSE senior project manager, 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 kW 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.