California moves to fast-track rooftop solar applications

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Already the U.S.’s brightest solar market, law makers in California have moved to expedite and standardize the state’s solar permitting process in an effort to make it even easier for homeowners to install rooftop PV arrays.

Assembly Bill 2188 has been drafted by South Bay Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi and is set to go before the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday. If passed, the legislation could simplify the permitting process for solar installations on homes – a process that, currently, can take months.

Solar experts in the state believe that a streamlined permit process could provide yet a further boom for California’s solar industry, which is already far and away the most dynamic in the U.S. In approving the proposal, the state Assembly voted 58-8 in favor back in May, and most expect the bill to pass in the Senate when it goes to the floor in August.

In a nutshell, the Assembly Bill 2188 would require Californian cities to process permits for residential-size solar installations within five working days, and would reduce the review process to just one post-installation inspection.

In helping to prepare the legislation, solar companies likened the current process to a ‘logistical nightmare’, citing the hundreds of idiosyncracies typical of uique applications as a snagging point for many would-be customers and installers.

"It’s kind of like we’re doing business in 500 different countries all at the same time," said Verengo Solar CEO Ken Button, who has been lobbying for solar permit standardization for the past six years.

The largest installation company in Southern California, Verengo Solar employs 1,000 staff in four states – 75 of which work exclusively on navigating the permit minefield. According to Button, the average application process takes three weeks between first contact and post-installation inspection. The installation itself, however, takes less than one day.

Adopting standardization

Assemblyman Muratsuchi’s aim is for California to adopt the same standardized approach to reviewing applications as the industry has in manufacturing solar equipment. Most panels deisnged for residential installations fall within a narrow parameter of specifications and some cities and counties across the state already have a simple checklist in place to review the systems and application, turning them around in under an hour on occasion. Muratsuchi wants the entire state to adopt such a policy.

"It is the exact same system that we are installing from San Francisco to San Diego," said Bernadette del Chiaro, California Solar Energy Industries Association’s executive director. "Some of these installations are complicated and need extra scrutiny, but the vast majority are cookie-cutter. They should get swift approval."

Support for the AB 2188 Bill has been widespread throughout the industry. With residential solar systems costing an average of $20,000, Californian residents will benefit from solar companies able to better plan their installation timelines, said Paula Mints, chief analyst at SPV Market Research.

"It is really crucial that we get our act together as an industry," she said. "Anything that simplifies, speeds up and streamlines the process is good, but it is not enough to do it in California. We need it in 49 more states."