Bill to streamline solar permitting passes the California legislature

In California, as in all parts of the United States, permitting and inspection is devolved to the county and municipal level. This means that different jurisdictions can approach these subjects very differently, which is not only a major headache for the nation’s residential and commercial solar installers, but can increase costs.

California is taking steps to address this issue. On August 21st, the California Assembly passed AB 2188, a bill which will require that each city and county adopt an ordinance to streamline permitting for residential solar PV and solar thermal systems. The California Senate had earlier passed the legislation, which now goes to the governor’s office for approval.

California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro says that this will address the wide range of different permitting practices in the state. “There are over 500 jurisdictions in California and no two are the same,” explains Del Chiaro.

Del Chiaro also notes that while the bill drew inspiration from improved permitting processes in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, some cities and counties still have very backwards permitting practices, including those that do not accept permit applications electronically.

“This brings the permitting process into the 21st century,” says Del Chiaro. “In addition to general best practices, cities and counties need to accept submissions electronically, to basically eliminate the need for contractors to have to get in a car and physically go down to the permitting office.”

These and other anachronisms translate into very real impacts for the solar industry. While a PV system can be installed in a day or two, in some areas these systems must wait months for a permit inspector to arrive.

A 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL) also found that cities with onerous permitting can increase PV system prices by US$0.27 – 0.77 per watt over those with streamlined permitting.

Del Chiaro notes that CALSEIA has had the support of California Governor Brown’s office “all along”, and as such expects that he will sign the bill.