US Energy Department to slash red tape, spur solar deployment


The U.S. Energy Department on Wednesday unveiled a plan to cut red tape for residential and small commercial rooftop solar systems in an effort to reach the Obama Administration’s goal of doubling renewable electricity generation by 2020.

Backed by some $12 million in federal investment and more than $4 million in outside funding, the program, part of the department’s Rooftop Solar Challenge, will consist of eight teams tasked with streamlining and standardizing solar permitting, zoning, metering and connection processes for communities across the country.

"Responsible development of all of America's rich energy resources is an important part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan and will help ensure America’s continued leadership in clean energy," said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. "Today, solar modules cost about one percent of what they did 35 years ago, and permitting and interconnection are an increasingly large portion of overall solar system costs."

Moniz added that through the Rooftop Solar Challenge, the Energy Department was helping to make the deployment of solar power in communities across the country "faster, easier and cheaper – saving money and time for local governments, homeowners and businesses."

The Energy Department said the program was part of a larger effort to make solar energy more accessible and affordable and position the U.S. as a leader in the rapidly-growing global solar market.

"Non-hardware, or ‘soft,' costs like permitting, installation, design and maintenance now account for more than 60 percent of the total cost of installed rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems in the United States," the department said, pointing out that across the country, there are "more than 18,000 local jurisdictions with their own PV permitting requirements as well as more than 5,000 utilities that set rules for connecting to the power grid."

By bringing together city, county and state officials, regulatory entities, private industry, universities, local utilities and other regional stakeholders, the Rooftop Solar Challenge addresses "differing and expensive processes required to install and finance residential and small business solar systems."

During the Challenge’s first round, 22 regional teams worked to dramatically reduce the soft costs of solar, the department said, adding that these efforts helped cut permitting time by 40 percent and reduce fees by over 10 percent – "making it faster and easier for more than 47 million Americans to install solar."

Building on the Challenge’s first round, the eight teams announced on Wednesday will help further expand the reach of innovative strategies that are making it easier, faster and cheaper for more homeowners and businesses to finance and install solar systems, the department said.

Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, applauded the move.

"We commend Secretary Moniz and the Department of Energy for their continued efforts to cut red tape and help bring down solar soft costs relating to permitting and installation. The Rooftop Solar Challenge is designed to reduce bureaucracy, making it easier, faster and more affordable for homeowners and businesses to install solar systems. The U.S. residential solar market continues to grow, creating good-paying American jobs and spurring local economies. But this growth could be jeopardized in the future unless something is done soon to eliminate needless red tape."

The Rooftop Solar Challenge is part of the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative, a collaborative national effort to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade.

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