Reducing Unnecessary Costs Requires Constant Vigilance
The “soft costs” of installation, including permitting and interconnection, have not decreased as rapidly as hardware costs and continue to be a barrier to greater adoption of solar and storage. The patchwork of code interpretation among local jurisdictions and review processes that are inconsistent from one job to the next lead to real costs that are passed on to customers. When utilities are unresponsive or put up unnecessary barriers, it adds to the costs of a project. According to a report by the National Renewable Energy Lab, these soft costs comprise up to 64% of the total price of a residential solar installation. We are working on many fronts to reduce these soft costs across the state, to increase access to solar and storage for every Californian.
Solar Permitting Fee Caps: AB 1414
Streamlined rooftop solar Permitting: AB 2188
streamlined storage permitting: AB 546
Use of your solar system is contingent on the local utility allowing interconnection to the electrical grid. For homeowners, utilities have streamlined this process and reduced the wait time for interconnection. When associated work like a service panel upgrade is required, however, delays can still be unreasonable. For larger projects, interconnection delays have worsened recently as utilities have become increasingly strict about their interpretations of the rules. Disputes with the utility can lead to year-long delays and the addition of hundreds of thousands of dollars in disputed costs.
The California Solar & Storage Association is a leader in the CPUC-sponsored Rule 21 Working Group that is overhauling the interconnection process for large systems. We worked with utility engineers and regulators over a multi-year process to develop a methodology for determining how much solar and storage can be interconnected at every point on the grid without costly grid upgrades. That analysis is now getting incorporated into the interconnection review process. We also work directly with the utilities to push back against requiring unnecessary equipment, overcharging customers, and taking months to complete work that should be done quickly.
The California Solar & Storage Association helped pass AB 1414 (Friedman) in 2017, which extended the cap on solar permitting fees for seven more years to January 1, 2025. In addition, starting 1/1/2018, new solar permitting fee caps will take effect in all cities and counties across California. The new law lowers the residential permit fee from $500 to $450, and expanded the cap to ground-mount and solar thermal systems. Please use the fact sheet below to inform your community of the new solar permit fees.
The California Solar & Storage Association passed AB 2188 (Muratsuchi) in 2014 to make solar permitting quicker and easier for both solar installers and building officials. It requires local governments to create a streamlined permitting process for small residential rooftop solar installations, including electronic submittal of applications and only one inspection (with some exceptions for fire inspections). It requires all jurisdictions to align their streamlined permitting processes with the California Solar Permitting Guidebook published by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. To help jurisdictions implement AB 2188, we are working with our partners across the state, including the Center for Sustainable Energy and the Sustainable Energy Action Committee (SEAC). SEAC is a coalition of building officials, code experts and solar and storage industry whose goal is to provide a better understanding of solar and storage energy requirements and improved practices and procedures to effectively and optimally support the growth of solar and storage.
Is Your Community Complying With California's Solar Rights Act, streamlined permitting and caps on Permitting fees?
California law protects consumers' rights to go solar and requires local governments to cut red tape through streamlined permitting. How is your community doing? Is your Home Owners Association putting unreasonable restrictions on your solar project? We have resources to help you.
The California Solar & Storage Association supported AB 546 (Chiu) in 2017 to streamline storage permitting processes across the state. This law will require all jurisdictions to allow electronic submission and signatures, as well as provide all permitting forms online. We are working with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research on developing storage permitting guidance documents that will streamline the process across the state, helping lower the soft costs for storage installations. In the interim, SEAC developed three helpful fact sheets to help with storage permitting, links below.
The Office of Planning and Research published the 2017 California Solar Permitting Guidebook, including checklists and standard plans as well as recommendations for streamlined permitting that include timelines for review and inspections. These documents and recommendations are mandated by AB 2188. This was the Third edition of the Guidebook, which included important updates for the 2016 California Electrical Code. We continue to work with state officials, local building officials, and the industry to keep the Guidebook up to date.
Streamlining HIS Licensing
In order to sell a home solar energy system, sales agents need to qualify for a Home Improvement Salesperson (HIS) license from the California State Licensing Board (CLSB). Unfortunately, the process for obtaining this important license, intended to protect consumers, is bogged down in red tape. It can take at least 5-6 weeks to obtain a license, which one can only apply for after being hired by a solar contractor. SB 561 (Monning) from 2015 made the timeline for obtaining a HIS license shorter and simplified the steps in the process. For example, a HIS license request now should be acceptable on-line, as opposed to relying on a mail-in process. In addition, a sales person will be able to apply for a license as an individual, essentially decoupling the license from the contractor – similar to how real estate agents are licensed with the state.