Bill to Lower Cost of Solar Passes Assembly

AB 2188 (Muratsuchi) Aims To Cut Byzantine Permitting Procedures For Homeowners Wins Bipartisan Support                                                                 

Update 4:11pm, May 27. Final vote count is 58-8.

SACRAMENTO - A bill establishing a streamlined permitting and inspection procedure for small, residential solar energy systems passed out of the State Assembly today. Assembly Bill 2188 takes aim at the patchwork quilt of costly ‘red tape’ permitting procedures in 500 cities and counties statewide promising to lower costs for homeowners and local governments alike. 

“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,” said Al Muratsuchi (D –Torrance), author of the bill. “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.”

In much the same way as cell phones a decade ago, the price of solar has fallen 50% since 2006 mainly due to economies of scale in manufacturing. However, the “soft costs” of solar, including the cost of getting a permit from a local building department, remains a stubborn thorn in the side of the solar industry desperate to keep lowering costs and achieve parity with fossil fuels.  

“Your typical home solar energy system has become practically cookie-cutter,” said Kelsea Jones, deputy director with the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA). “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.”

Research has shown that costs associated with attaining a building permit for a residential solar energy system can be significant. A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs concluded that streamlining the permitting process could potentially reduce the price of a typical residential solar system by $1,000 or more, on average, and cut development time by about a month.

Approximately 158,000 solar roofs were installed on California homes in 2013, double the number from 2012. The growth in homeowners going solar, fueled by financial incentives and a desire to cut energy bills, has led to a backlog of work at local permitting offices. Advocates of AB 2188 point out that streamlining the permitting process for solar not only helps homeowners but also cuts workloads for cash-strapped building departments.

“Streamlined permitting doesn’t mean weaker consumer protections,” said Tom Butts, city council member in Richmond, which has already adopted a streamlined permitting procedure akin to that envisioned in AB 2188. “Local governments run more smoothly by applying practical, tried and true efficiency measures to the permitting system.”

AB 2188 passed the Assembly with a vote of 52-5. It now moves to the Senate where it will be heard in Governance and Finance Committee in June.  The bill is supported by a coalition of business associations, solar companies, environmental groups, and local elected officials.