As anyone who’s installed solar on a home in the United States is entirely too aware, home solar installations can be a slow, complicated and frustrating process, taking as long as six months and requiring reams and reams of paper.
This level of inefficiency has been the case for many years, but now as rooftop solar reaches ever higher levels of popularity — see for example the latest roundup of 12 states that are doing solar right — there are efforts coming alongside to bring some sanity to solar permitting.
Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, writes today on the NRDC’s blog about his own slow solar install, but also about a groundbreaking effort to reform solar permitting in New York.
It started with Long Island, home to 113 different municipalities — and therefore 113 different processes — for getting a permit to install rooftop solar. Lehner talks to Sail van Nostrand, the owner of installer Energy by Choice, and former head of the Long Island Solar Energy Industries Association, who says, “We never knew how many sets of drawings were required, or even what had to be in them. Some of them required surveys, which don’t even show the roof! The fees were astronomical. The paperwork was a nightmare.”
It’s gotten so bad, Lehner says, that the largest solar installers have hired teams of people just to handle paperwork: People to fill out applications and research the many different requirements, as well as people “whose full-time job is to bring stacks of paperwork to multiple permitting authorities, stand in lines, and pay fees.”
To try and fix this boondoggle, a group of solar installers, including Energy by Choice, worked with the government of Suffolk County in Long Island to create a simpler way to apply for solar permits. The county’s solution was not only embraced by nine out of 10 towns in Suffolk County, but became the template for New York State’s brand-new Simplified Solar Permit. The new statewide permit, Lehner writes, “recommends, among other things, a single fee, a single inspection, and a decision within 14 days.”
There are other efforts underway to fix the solar permitting process; the folks at SolarPermit.org have created an National Solar Permitting Database to help contractors and installers better understand local permit requirements for more than 800 municipalities.
And over at ProjectPermit.org, the Vote Solar Initiative has created a list of nine best practices for solar permitting aimed at helping municipalities make solar permitting as simple as possible.