As we’ve explained previously, there isn’t a simple answer to the question of the cost of solar, due to the many different variables that can affect the price of a solar PV array, which go beyond the relatively straightforward costs of the solar panels themselves.
But one thing that wasn’t mentioned in our article about the factors that influence the cost of residential solar is one of the so-called soft costs, which is the price of getting a permit from the local building department.
This permitting cost, which is estimated to add several thousand dollars on top of the hard costs of a 5kW rooftop solar array, as well as the sometimes lengthy permitting process of navigating the red tape of bureaucracy, can end up slowing the wider adoption of home solar systems.
However, for prospective solar homeowners in California, the cost of solar power, as well as the wait time for it, may soon drop, thanks to a bill (AB 2188) currently in the works in the Golden State.
“Many jurisdictions in the state have adopted best practices that have significantly cut down on permitting wait times, while maintaining important public health and safety standards. It’s time that we expand these practices statewide, which will help make solar more affordable and increase access to more California homeowners who want to control their electricity bills and generate their own clean energy.” – Al Muratsuchi (D –Torrance), author of AB 2188
The bill aims to streamline the process of solar permitting and inspections for residential solar systems in California, as well as addressing the relatively high costs involved for approval of these home solar projects.
According to the California Solar Energy Industries Association, a study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs found that by streamlining the solar permitting process, it could have the potential of reducing the costs of a residential solar installation by an average of $1000, as well as speed up the process by as much as a month.
In another document from LBNL, addressing the soft costs through policy can be effective at removing barriers to solar:
“Soft costs are especially important from the perspective of public policy efforts. Unlike module prices, which are established based on global supply and demand, soft costs can be influenced more directly by local, state and national policies aimed at accelerating deployment and removing market barriers.” – Galen Barbose, Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division
Proponents of the bill claim that not only will the bill help potential solar homeowners, but can also help local building departments cut their workloads, which have been growing rapidly due to increased demand and attractive solar incentives for home solar systems.
“Your typical home solar energy system has become practically cookie-cutter. From Chico to Chula Vista, we’re talking about the exact same product, design, and installation, yet many building departments require byzantine permits as if they are installing a nuclear power plant up there.” – Kelsea Jones, deputy director, California Solar Energy Industries Association
Those who are opposed to the legislation worry that creating a separate permitting process for solar would be costly for municipalities, and may lead to inadequate protection for the end users. But according to some local governments which have already moved to a faster permitting process, those concerns are baseless.
“Streamlined permitting doesn’t mean weaker consumer protections. Local governments run more smoothly by applying practical, tried and true efficiency measures to the permitting system.” – Tom Butts, city council member in Richmond, a community that has already adopted a similar streamlined permitting process
While the California solar bill is still currently in process (it passed the State Assembly 58-8 this week, but still needs to clear several committees and be passed by the Senate before it goes before Governor Jerry Brown), if and when it gets written into effect, it could have a very real impact on reducing the soft costs of solar, and greatly speed up the permitting and inspection process. According to a post about the bill on GreenTech Media, Sunrun, a solar financier, stated in 2012 that the amount of money wasted in inefficiencies in permitting essentially “functions like a $1 billion tax on solar.”
If that’s true, and a significant amount of money could be saved simply through having a better process like this, this bill could be a very good thing for both homeowners and solar installers alike.
[Image: Andreas Demmelbauer]