Solar isn’t going to get much cheaper if we don’t do anything about soft costs. Soft costs involve things other than the equipment and labor. They include permitting, interconnection regulations, customer acquisition, and so on. Permitting adds time and cost to solar systems. Plenty of communities have streamlined their solar permit process to make it easy to go solar while also reducing operating costs for the city or county. Germany is famous for its double-sided one page for solar permitting.
Standardizing the permit process across multiple jurisdictions would be very helpful for installers. Many times a contractor needs to wait at the building department or make an appointment to speak with an inspector or plan checker to know what each permit application requires. If no appointment system is available, it’s hit or miss and if you are lucky and the relevant official will be there when you show up. There are at least 423 building departments in California, and each one is different in procedure. “Getting information on how to file a permit in California shouldn’t be more complicated than applying to college” says Pat Redgate of AMECO Solar. “Imagine having to travel to each school to learn what information is needed to apply or finding out you needed to meet with an admissions officer who left for the day or is simply too busy to see you. Certainly most would never apply to a school out of state…or drive very far to apply – it would cost too much. This is how solar installers feel. It takes a lot of time to get anywhere, especially in LA and Orange Counties, and having to make multiple trips can add significant cost to a system.”
Patrick Redgate, AMECO’s President & CEO, is working with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to make the permit processes more efficient and less costly for solar companies and building departments. OPR’s eventual goal is to create a standardized version of a permit application to submit to any Californian city. It will be limited to residential solar systems that are under 10 kW, which can be uncomplicated and pretty similar. There’s no reason that permits should vary from city to city if we, as a state, can determine what is safe and appropriate. It takes time and teamwork to agree on what is safe and appropriate since solar photovoltaic has only made an impact on California residents since the turn of the 21st century. This is why OPR’s first goal is to standardize the required information on a permit. If an installer knows what each city needs, that is the first step to a truly streamlined application process.
Another effort to reduce administrative soft costs for PV and Thermal solar adoption is Assembly Bill 2188, which recently passed two senate committee hearings. Senate Finance Committee. AB 2188 is a step in the right direction. Although it allows cities to opt out of particular features of expedited permitting it will direct cities to follow “best practices as defined in SunShot permit streamlining documents.” OPR and CALSEIA are working to make AB 2188 a more effective piece of legislation by helping to define best practices and standardize the application process.
We need renewable energy moving forward and distributed generation is one of the most sustainable ways to accomplish our climate goals. At the end of the day, we will all be enjoying cleaner air and better karma or will we go dark because we couldn’t meet peak demand on a sunny day.