Soft Costs


Center for Sustainable Energy, in partnership with the Office of Planning and Research, Released New Permitting Guidebook On Eve of AB 2188 Going into Effect

On the eve of the nation’s first streamlined solar permitting law, AB 2188 (Muratsuchi), going into effect, a new resource guide aimed at helping cities and counties expedite and streamline the permitting process for all home solar energy systems was released today. 

The California Solar Permitting Guidebook addresses the requirements of the Solar Permitting Efficiency Act (formerly Assembly Bill 2188) signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September that requires the state’s more than 540 cities and counties to adopt streamlined solar permitting processes by Sept. 30, 2015. With the help of this guidebook, AB 2188 aims is to cut installation costs for homeowners, increase local jobs and economic development for solar businesses, and reduce the workload of permitting agencies. California is the first state to mandate standardized solar permitting processes.

“It takes a solar contractor one day to install a residential solar system yet in many cities and counties it takes months just to get a simple permit,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA). “Thanks to AB 2188, and this accompanying guidebook, that bureaucratic burden should lighten, allowing solar businesses to deploy more solar and employ more people.”

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 stubbornly high. 

“California leads the nation in rooftop solar installations, but achieving the state’s ambitious goals for renewable energy will require even greater solar adoption, and the permitting process has been a major barrier,” said Tamara Gishri-Perry, a CSE senior project manager. “The new legislation is an opportunity for local governments to reduce their paperwork and costs for approving what are typically fairly simple home rooftop solar installations.”

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 reduce the price of a typical home solar system by $1,000 or more, which, in turn, promises to increase demand for solar thereby growing local businesses.

Approximately 158,000 solar roofs were installed on California homes in 2013, double the number from 2012, and 2014 is shaping up to be the solar industry’s biggest year yet. 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.

AB 2188 was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in September after receiving several bi-partisan votes in the legislature. The bill was supported by a coalition of business associations, solar companies, environmental groups, and local elected officials.    

The guidebook, published in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, contains best practices for permitting and inspection of home solar systems as well as standard application forms and checklists for solar installations. CSE’s renewable energy team compiled the guidebook with input from a task force of participants from state code agencies, local building departments and the solar industry. It is available online at

CSE staff provides free technical assistance to any local government agency that wants to adopt the California Solar Permitting Guidebook and offers an implementation guide, model ordinances and other resources. They are planning webinars and in-person trainings in 2015 for local government officials focusing on the benefits of adopting the guidebook’s recommendations. For information, email solar or call 415-796-0135.

More information about AB 188 can be found at

Solar Industry Generates More Jobs Than Energy Utilities

Solar Workers Gather at Capitol to Celebrate Solar Jobs, Promote AB 2188

SACRAMENTO - Wearing hard hats and bright yellow shirts, dozens of solar installers from across the state gathered at the State Capitol to call on policy makers to create jobs by cutting red tape through streamlined and standardized permitting.  As more and more Californians go solar to control their electricity costs and help the state meets its climate goals, local governments can do their part by making it easier for their residents to navigate often-complicated permitting processes. 

“An inconsistent patchwork of permitting requirements forces the industry to bear extra costs for small solar systems that are as easy to install as a HVAC system,” said Andrew Gutierrez, a SolarCity installer from Fresno.  “There is no reason why permit requirements in one city should differ significantly from an neighboring city for the exact same system.”

The solar installers spent the day educating lawmakers about the importance of continuing to grow California’s rooftop solar market through sound policy.  According to recent analyses by The Solar Foundation and the California Solar Energy Industries Association, the solar industry now employs more workers--47,000--than the state’s investor-owned utilities combined. 

“Rooftop solar power is not only contributing meaningfully to California’s clean energy goals, it is also putting people to work in every corner of the state,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA).  “We’re talking a big number of local construction jobs from the North Coast to the Central Valley to the Inland Empire that can’t be outsourced.” 

The solar installers were joined by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), author of AB 2188, which would streamline permitting requirements for rooftop solar energy systems.   

California is home to over 500 cities and counties, each with a different process for permitting the same rooftop solar system.  The majority of these processes are overly complicated, time consuming and not reflective of the innovation that has occurred in the solar industry.  This patchwork of requirements adds an estimated $1,500-$3,500 to a typical solar system.

“While it can take a solar company eight hours to install a home solar system, it can take as many as five weeks to get a permit,” said Al Muratsuchi (D –Torrance). “AB 2188 is a commonsense approach to reducing red tape, promoting clean energy, and helping consumers save money.”

AB 2188 passed the Assembly by a vote of 58-8. It now heads to the Senate floor.  Today’s lobby day was sponsored jointly by The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and CALSEIA. Over fifty solar installers traveled to the Capitol from around the state to participate in today’s activities.  Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and Senator Mark Leno were also presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards for their unwavering support for the solar industry during their legislative careers.

 “It is important that the legislators get to know the people who are building the energy infrastructure of the future,” said Walker Wright, director of public policy for Sunrun, Inc.  “These workers have essentially built four coal-fired power plants-worth of solar power on a quarter of a million roofs throughout the state.  Now that’s something to celebrate.” 


Since the 1970s, CALSEIA has advanced the common interests of the California solar industry, helping make California's solar market the most robust in the United States. Comprised of California solar contractors, manufacturers, distributors, developers, utilities, engineers, consultants and educational organizations, CALSEIA represents a diverse membership committed to growing the California solar industry. CALSEIA engages with local and state decision makers to ensure California remains a solar energy leader through good public policy and regulations that provide clarity, transparency, and certainty for our growing market. 

Who is TASC?

The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) believes that everyone should have access to the economic and environmental benefits of renewable distributed generation. Rooftop solar provides residents, businesses, schools and public entities with a clean and efficient alternative to electricity generated from fossil fuels. TASC is committed to protecting and promoting Net Energy Metering (NEM), which provides fair credit when a customer’s solar system sends excess energy to the grid. NEM is currently authorized in California and 42 other states.